Talking with Ti
with Ti Mikkel
Q&A with Daniel Abraham
TI: Hello, Daniel! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions today.
The Expanse, which you co-authored with George’s former assistant Ty, is heading into its fifth season on Amazon. If I remember correctly, Ty was developing the world for a tabletop roleplaying game when you suggested turning it into a series of novels. When you completed the first installment, Leviathan Wakes, what was the next step? At that time, you had already written on Wild Cards, Hunter’s Run, as well as several short stories, so you had quite a bit of success. Did your agent take the pages and hit the ground running?
DANIEL: Well, I’d also written a complete four-book fantasy series called the Long Price Quartet, several urban fantasy novels under a pseudonym of MLN Hanover, and was in the process of selling a five-book fantasy series (since completed) called The Dagger and the Coin. When Leviathan Wakes was done, we gave it to my agents, and they sold it to Orbit following up the Dagger and Coin sale.
TI: Quite a few writers read this blog, and publishing tips are always helpful. Can you tell us a few tips for breaking in? Aside from a good query letter, personal connections, and a great story, what matters most?
DANIEL: The best advice I got on how to break in was from Gardner Dozois. Write five award-winning level short stories and sell them all in the same year. The thing that matters most is being good – which is a constant struggle – and the thing that matters second most is getting your work where people can see it. I’m very skeptical of other advice. It’s like “aside from exercise and a healthy diet, how can you support your health?”
TI: Did you make any mistake early in your writing career? What are a few pitfalls aspiring artists can avoid?
DANIEL I think the biggest dangers as a new writer are not reading and understanding your contracts and treating conventions like a party instead of being at work. A writing career is a career, and you don’t want to make decisions in it without understanding what they are. Going over a contract with your agent or a lawyer – just so you know what you’re agreeing too – is invaluable. And conventions can be an important part of building your personal and professional network, but a bar at a convention isn’t like a bar with your friends.
TI: You’re no stranger to collaboration, having written The Expanse and contributing to the Wild Cardsuniverse. Do you find you prefer writing alone or with a team?
DANIEL: They both have their advantages, and I still do both. Collaboration is great as a way to stretch and see things from perspectives that are outside your default, but being the one who gets to make all the decisions can be a relief too.
TI: Let’s expand on your writing process. Are you a ten-pages-a-day kind of guy? Do you write in the mornings or evenings?
DANIEL: I wish I was regimented enough for there to be an answer to that question. I write sometimes. Usually if I haven’t done it in a while, I get cranky.
TI: Did you always know you wanted to write? Where did you grow up?
DANIEL: I’ve been pretty ambitious about writing from at least middle school.
TI: Where did you grow up?
DANIEL: I grew up in New Mexico, which had the advantage of having a really active science fiction community. My first mentor was Fred Saberhagen back when I was in high school. I’ll owe him for the rest of my life.
TI: You created one of my favorite Wild Cards characters, Jonathan Hive. Well, a favorite until he broke up with Simoon in Suicide Kings by THROWING HER EARRING INTO THE SNOW. I’m still not okay, and I read that book five years ago. Explain yourself.
DANIEL: That was a deeply unhealthy relationship. She was dead — like dead dead – when they got together. Taking a lover who is an effect being channeled through a third party’s body is not something a good therapist is going to recommend for anyone. You call it breaking up with her. He calls it coming to terms with her death. You’re both right.
TI: You’ve written novels and for television. Which do you prefer? Is one “easier?” Do you enjoy Los Angeles?
DANIEL: Los Angeles isn’t my town, but I like a lot of the people there. Screenwriting is an entirely different beast from novel and short story work. It was like learning a new thing. I enjoy both, but the thing I’ve really become enamored with on the television side is film editing. That’s the most “novelistic” part of the TV process.
TI: Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
DANIEL: I’ve had periods where I was doing shitty work. And I’ve had periods where I’ve been unproductive. I don’t know if that count’s a “block.”
TI: What did you read growing up?
DANIEL: Whatever I could put my hands on. Science books, fantasy, essays, weird psychedelic shit from Robert Anton Wilson and William S Burroughs, Douglas Hofstadter and Marvin Minsky. Jane Austen and Maya Angelou. Anthony Burgess and Elmore Leonard. Mack Boland. Whatever. All of it.
TI: Did your parents encourage your craft?
DANIEL: My parents were very supportive of me.
TI: What did they do for a living?
DANIEL: My mother was an architect, my father was a musician and unlicensed contractor, and eventually a Spanish teacher. My dad read to me a lot when I was growing up, some of it stories that hadn’t been translated into English that he’d then make up a translation on the fly.
TI: Has quarantine impacted your work? I know many are concerned about the future, and rightfully so. Do you think Hollywood will go back to functioning as it did before? What about publishing?
DANIEL: I think we’ll get back to some version of normalcy, but it’ll take a while. I’m expecting to see between one and two million people dead in the US before this is over, and there’s going to be a lot of folks who are carrying health effects for years after this. Maybe forever. But I also think we’ll have some good vaccines in pretty short order for this kind of thing – so within a couple years.
TI: Fingers crossed. Have you read or watched anything interesting during lockdown?
DANIEL: The best things I’ve read recently are A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hammill and In the Dream House by Carmen Machado.
TI: Tell me about your hobbies outside of writing.
DANIEL: I’m pretty sure writing is my hobby outside of writing.
TI: Fair enough. Any interesting projects in the pipeline?
DANIEL: I have a new fantasy trilogy in the works with Orbit that I’m really quite excited about. It’s three novels – and three complete and intertwining stories – set in the same city during the same year. Structurally, it’s one of the most ambitious things I’ve ever done. And, yeah, there are some other irons in the fire with books and TV both. We’ll see what comes of them.
TI: Can’t wait. Thank you so much for your time, Daniel.