Interview with Bestselling Author Daniel Abraham (James S.A. Corey and M.L.N. Hanover)

Daniel Abraham
Daniel Abraham

Today we are joined by bestselling and award-winning author Daniel Abraham. Daniel publishes science fiction as one half of the two-headed giant, James S.A. Corey. He satisfies readers with his urban fantasy as M.L.N. Hanover, and he writes epic fantasy as himself, mild-mannered Daniel Abraham. Daniel’s work has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and Locus Awards. His short story “Flat Diane” won the International Horror Guild Award. Did I mention he also adapts graphic novels for George R.R. Martin? Daniel lives on one of those super-secret bases hidden somewhere within the borders of New Mexico.

R.K. TROUGHTON FOR AMAZING STORIES: Welcome to Amazing Stories, Daniel. Not long ago we were fortunate enough to get to know one of your collaborators, Ty Franck, a little better. When we asked him for your dirty secrets, he spilled his guts like an overstuffed piñata. We are excited for you to join us so that you can refute those claims. Putting aside the rumors of your split personalities, how is it that you came to write under three different names?     

DANIEL ABRAHAM: I have this idiosyncratic idea about novels where part of what makes a book satisfying is whether it met the reader’s expectations, and maybe even a little more.  One of the tools that really sets those expectations is who wrote the book.  If you read a Daniel Abraham novel and then go pick up an MLN Hanover book, it’s going to be a very different experience.  Even if the Hanover book is good, it isn’t what you thought you were getting.  The analogy I like best is when you forget you ordered a Coke and think your drink is iced tea.  It can be the best Coke in the world, and it’s still crappy iced tea.  So Daniel Abraham writes short stories and second-world fantasy.  MLN Hanover writes urban fantasy.  James S. A. Corey writes space opera.  If I move on at some point and write crime novels, chances are they’ll have a different name on them too.

ASM: Ty explained to us the origins of the name James S.A. Corey. How did you create the name M.L.N. Hanover?

DA: Well, urban fantasy is a genre that expects authors to be women – especially when it’s got a first-person female protagonist – and so initials obscures my gender.  Everyone has two initials, so three stands out a little.  MLN doesn’t spell anything.  And Hanover put it on the same shelf as Harrison and Hamilton.  I don’t know that any of that had any effect on how the books were received, except that I had some people write me that they liked the books and wouldn’t have picked them up if they’d known I was guy.

ASM: Ty mentioned that Jim Corey has his own voice. How do you think your three voices differ? If a reader did not know they were all written by you, do you think they could tell it was, at least in part in the case of Corey, the same author? 

DA: I think the voices differ because the projects differ.  Epic fantasy prose sounds a little different in the ear than urban fantasy does.  Le Guin talked about it in From Elfland to Poughkeepsie back in 1973.  If my first-person modern narrator sounds like my third-person faux-medieval swordsman, I’m doing it wrong.

Graveyard Child by MLN HanoverASM: As M.L.N Hanover, you have written five novels in a series titled Black Sun’s Daughter. For those not familiar with your work, what can they expect to find when they pick up one of these books?

DA: The Black Sun’s Daughter project was all about taking the usual tropes of urban fantasy – the girl with unexpected superpowers, the world full of supernatural bad guys, the snarky tone – and use them to talk about the things I think urban fantasy’s built to talk about.  The difference between empowering women and weaponizing them, for instance.

ASM: What’s next in your Hanover collection?

DA: That depends on the market.  I originally planned the series as a ten-book run, and I hit the halfway point in the last book.  So all the expectations and setup from the first book have played out to where the mysteries are solved.  If I get to go the second half, then it starts being the rehumanization of an urban fantasy kick-ass heroine.  But urban fantasy is going through kind of a contraction right now.  A lot of the big series are winding up, and a lot of the second tier folks are apparently being encouraged to think about how to put a bow on it too.  The problem with these kinds of artistic projects is that they happen in the world, and the world changes on you.

ASM: Ty fed many of our questions regarding James Corey, but there were one or two that your fans were still eager to learn about. First, we would like to know if you plan on collecting all of the shorter Expanse pieces into a single collection for future release? If so, when might we read it?  

DA: I think we have a kind of agreement in principle to collect the Expanse novellas and short stories, but we haven’t put a date to it.  My guess would be sometime after we have enough stories to actually fill up a book.

ASM: The other big question your James S.A. Corey fans want to ask is about your entry into a galaxy far, far away. What can you dish on the Han Solo novel you’ve recently turned in?

DA: Well, I can tell you we got to focus on Han, that we set it between A New Hope (or Star Wars, as we called it when I was a kid) and Empire Strikes Back, and that the title is Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion: Honor Among Thieves. After that, I think they start threatening to remove limbs if I hand out spoilers.  If you want to know who (if anyone) winds up on the Iron Throne, though. . . Oh.  Wait.  No, I can’t tell you that either.

ASM: Okay, we’ve managed to confront two heads of your three-headed hydra. Now let’s put Daniel Abraham under the spotlight. As yourself, you’ve written many short stories and numerous fantasy novels. You’ve also collaborated with George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Hanover is urban fantasy, and Corey writes space opera. What boundaries have you set for Daniel Abraham the penname?

DA: Broadly, Daniel writes second-world fantasy, short stories, and side projects like the comic books scripts.  Since it’s my real name, it’s also my default.  The other names tend to be much more project-bound, although anything I do with Ty whether it’s The Expanse or something else will likely be as James SA Corey.

The Tyrant's Law by Daniel AbrahamASM: Your epic fantasy includes four books in the Long Price Quartet, three books in the Dagger and the Coin series, and you have a novella in the Balfour and Meriwether series coming this fall. Please describe what they will find inside your fantasy worlds. 

DA: Well, they’re all pretty different.  The Long Price has an almost literary sensibility.  The Dagger and the Coin was meant to feel a lot more like a traditional fantasy – more swashbuckling, some epic quests.  Balfour and Meriwether are my answer to steampunk.  Gentlemen’s adventure in the 1880s made entirely of pulp and swashbuckling, with a little bitterness under the sugar that really you don’t even need to notice to enjoy them.

ASM: Is there a connection between each series?

DA: Apart from all coming out of my particular and idiosyncratic head, no.

ASM: For someone new to your epic fantasy, where should they start?

DA: I’m torn on that.  I think The Dagger and the Coin books are a little easier to access for someone coming in, but the Long Price books are finished.  So probably The Long Price, at least for a couple more years.

ASM: It seems many people can point to a single influence or time in their life where science fiction and fantasy first blipped onto their radar. Where did it all start for you? What was the corrupting influence that hooked you for life?

DA: The one I remember best was The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke.  But there were any number of other arrows pointing me down the same road.  I watched a lot of Twilight Zone when I was a kid, and my father read to me from a lot of different sources.  Nine Billion Names of God was the one that opened my skull, though.

ASM: Besides your collaborators, what authors have influenced your writing style/styles the most? Who do you read now?

The Queen's GambitDA: When I was learning to put a novel together, I spent a lot of time looking at Walter Tevis, and especially a book called The Queen’s Gambit.  It’s great because it’s really solid, workman’s storytelling.  It works, but it’s not so polished that you can’t see where the seams are if you squint at it.  But I read everything I could get my hands on when I was growing up, and I imagine there’s bits and pieces of all sorts of stuff in there.  Right now, I’m reading Carrie Vaughn and Robertson Davies, and I’ve got Graham Joyce, Dan Savage, Elizabeth Wein and Laini Taylor on my to-read pile.

ASM: With all of your writing projects, I’m sure your neighbors frequently complain about the constant clattering of your keyboard. You must be crushing the keys. What does a typical week look like for Daniel Abraham?

DA: Drop the kid off at school and the wife off at work between eight and nine, come home, check email and facebook and twitter for a few hours, eat lunch, nap, realize I’m behind, type furiously until it’s time to get the kid at 3, grab a snack, retrieve the darling wife from work, make dinner watch something that’s not too scary for a 7-year-old with an overactive imagination, read the child to sleep, read the wife to sleep, sleep.  Repeat Monday through Friday.  I have a gloriously boring life.

ASM: Ty mentioned that you taught him everything about writing a novel he knows. You’ve mentioned before that you had to write several novels before you started to get comfortable with the length. Is there any growing wisdom you can share with your fans that doesn’t compromise the man behind the curtain?

DA: The man behind the curtain can say everything he knows as clearly as he can and not be compromised.  Writing isn’t one of those secrets you can dispel just by telling.  The thing that’s been most interesting for me is figuring out that by “finding your voice” – which sounds very spiritual and enlightened – people really mean “understand what a narrator is and find what sort you work with best.”  I was always a little intimidated by the sense that I had to find some sort of literary Buddha-nature before I’d be any good, but it turns out it’s actually just picking up a toolbox of good tricks and doing a lot of hard work.

ASM: When I drive cars, they seem to have a certain speed they want to go. Some want to drive 30 MPH, while a few sports cars beg me for 50 MPH or more. Legends whisper that you are Nostradamus with the word count of your fiction. You can predict with frightening accuracy how many words something you are writing is going to require. Have you found a cruising speed for your novels? Is there a word count that just beckons you as a natural fit? Does it vary between pennames?

DA: It’s not a prediction, it’s a decision, and it’s just about the first one I make with any project.  If I’m writing a book, I decide first if it’s seventy thousand words or a hundred or a hundred and forty or a hundred and seventy.  Or whatever.  The first ten thousand words of a sixty thousand word novel aren’t the same as the first ten thousand words of a hundred and seventy thousand word one.  Or of a twenty thousand word novella.  I can play at any length, but I wouldn’t start off into the project without having a sense of where it ends and how long I have to get there than I’d start a road trip by saying “Eh,  East-ish, I suppose.”

The Butcher of Anderson Station by James SA CoreyASM: What is ahead for you and your many faces?  Can we expect to see a fourth head sprout from the hydra?

DA: Sure, if I wind up picking up another project.  Careers rise and fall, and I’ve got three of them right now.  If, in the fullness of time MLN Hanover or Daniel Abraham or James SA Corey can’t sell a fresh book, I’ll still be writing.  It’s what I do.

ASM: We have greatly appreciated your precious time. We can hear the siren’s call of the keyboard, tugging you back towards your projects. Before you go, do you have anything else you would like to share with the readers of Amazing Stories?

DA: “Stare.  It is the way to educate your eye, and more.  Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop.  Die knowing something. You are not here long.” – Walker Evans

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