Nancy Kress first appeared on the sf scene in the late 1970s. Since then, she’s published 33 novels, more short stories than I can count, and won six Nebulas, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. She provides our third guest blog, giving some insight into her novel Crossfire.
WHY THIS? WHY THERE? WHY NOW?
WHY I WROTE CROSSFIRE. MAYBE
by Nancy Kress
The second most difficult question for a writer to answer honestly is “What led you to write this particular novel?” (The first, not unrelated, is “Where do you get your ideas?”) The question is difficult because sometimes there is an easy answer: “I saw an intriguing news article” or “I’ve always been interested in unicorns” or “An editor asked for something set on Mars.” These answers aren’t dishonest but they aren’t complete, either. Like earthquakes, every story starts deeper than the resulting changes to the surface landscape.
The well of the mind runs down to places dark, and deep, and sometimes cold.
In 1927, scholar John Livingston Lowes published a book called The Road To Xanadu: A Study In The Ways of the Imagination. Lowes read everything that the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge had read, guided by Coleridge’s notebooks and letters, contemporaries’ letters, and even library records. From all this, Lowes traced the sources of images in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. Much of the iceberg imagery in Mariner, for instance, is prefigured in Captain Cook’s writings about his Antarctic explorations. Lowes’s book has its critics today, but its central premise remains true: Coleridge’s writings were deeply influenced by what he had read.
And also by what he did, whom he knew, the view from his window, his childhood, possibly what he ate for breakfast that morning, though the book did not trace any of that (how could you?) Coleridge’s images were not, however, borrowed directly from what he’d read. They were combined, transmuted, fancified. In Lowes’s words, they were “dropped into the well of the mind” in order to (in the words of an even better writer than Coleridge) “suffer a sea change/into something rich and strange.”
So what does all this have to do with science fiction, and specifically with my novel Crossfire? SF writers may name the inspiration for their works (AI research, the battle for Iwo Jima, Star Trek, a dream about ghosts), but that only identifies the rocks and beaches on the surface. Most fiction comes from shifting tectonic plates far underground, throwing up fire and lava from everything the writer has ever experienced. This is what gives fiction depth (and scholars something to write about). Sometimes, even the author is surprised by what emerges from his or her keyboard.
So I can list the easy reasons that I wrote Crossfire:
- evolution’s reliance on the fossil record led me to ask: “What if there was no fossil record of a sentient but primitive species on a planet? What does that imply?”
- an interest in the underdog—in this case, the human species, which is caught in the crossfire of a war between two much more powerful alien species
- the desire to create aliens that are genuinely alien
- a visit to a Native American reservation that was trying to recapture a culture at odds with the modern world
None of that, however, accounts for the story and shape and characters in the finished book. Where did Nan come from, that weird and wild woman with my own name? Where did the idea to have Lucy so claustrophobic that she almost destroys a spaceship? Where did the kindness of William Shipley or the details of the alien Vines or the mixture of cooperation and cruelty among various human groups? I can make some guesses, but my guesses would be incomplete. The well of the mind runs down to places dark, and deep, and sometimes cold.
All the books in this story bundle are by women. If men had written the same plots, the book would be entirely different. If I had written Kris Rusch’s book, or Vonda McIntyre had written Judith Tarr’s, they would also be completely different stories. A work of fiction is a bit of a writer’s mind (insert appropriate jokes here). The writers themselves often aren’t sure what pieces they’re giving away in our work.
We just hope you enjoy them.
To find out more about Nancy, go to her website. If you want to try her work, she has a novel in the Storybundle that runs until the end of August. If you’re reading this after August, you can buy the novel and all her other works from your favorite retailer.