Lisa: I couldn’t be more thrilled to have author Ginn Hale joining us today here at The Novel Approach to chat a bit about her newest novella, Maze-Born Trouble, among other things.
In spite of the fact that I’ve been a long-time fan, I believe this is the first time I’ve had you here for a chat, Ginn, so welcome! Why don’t we start by having you tell us a bit about yourself before we get to the Q&A?
Ginn: Hi Lisa. Thank you for having me!
What to say about myself… I live in the Pacific Northwest with my wife and two wayward cats. When I’m not hawking organic produce at our local Farmers’ Market, I tend to wander around the rainforest peering at plants and fungi. I write fantasy and science-fiction that focuses on LGBT characters and I’ve been lucky enough to win a few awards for that.
I love black coffee but also enjoy a terrible concoction called coffee-tea, which smells a little like Christmas and tastes like a bitter curse. How I managed to acquire a taste for the drink but not for chocolate, I don’t know. J
Lisa: You’ve been at this writing business for quite a while now. What sorts of changes have you seen over the years in the LGBT+ genre that stand out most?
Ginn: I think the most amazing and encouraging thing is that LGBT+ characters can not only be the protagonists of their own books but that it is now perfectly acceptable that those characters get to be heroic and enjoy happy endings!
Lisa: What typically comes first for you when a story idea begins to brew, say, for a series like The Rifter or Lord of the White Hell and Champion of the Scarlet Wolf: the setting/world, the characters, the plotline? How do you sift through and prioritize all the details of a world and story arc that big?
Ginn: For me the key to keeping a large, complicated story from collapsing into utter chaos is to have the structure really nailed down. And I have to know how everything ends, then I can reverse engineer to plot all the way to the beginning to create an outline. But the inspirations for the stories themselves can come from all kinds of things and take really different forms.
For example, I’d had certain images of crumbling city fortresses and concepts about unraveling space-time floating around in my head since high school but they didn’t coalesce into The Rifter until I finally thought of interweaving two storylines of the time travel novel so that John’s actions keep altering Kyle’s past, which in turn changes John’s future. Once I knew that the structure was going to take the form of alternating arcs of action I was able to place all those images of collapsing cities, spaces hidden between walls, and hungry bones into a story that I could plot and then write.
With Lord of the White Hell I’d been challenged by fellow writers, “write a story in a boy’s school,” “write about horses,” and “write someone who has clothes that fit, for once!” I found the structure I wanted by plotting the book around the idea of a mirror: where the structure and scenes of the first half of the book, when Kiram is still very naïve but learning, are reflected in the second half with much more adult consequences.
Lisa: Which character do you most like to write, the hero or the villain? Why?
Ginn: I like writing about heroes, because LGBT heroes are still rare and incredibly valuable to LGBT readers. That said, I prefer their heroism not to come easily or without it costing to my protagonists, because it’s not always easy to do the right thing or to know how to do the right thing.
I try not to think of antagonists as ‘villains’, so much as people with values and needs in opposition to those of the protagonist. It’s important to me—particularly in longer works— that the conflict reflects more than just “good vs bad” because most real human conflicts are rarely that simple for the people going through them.
The Rifter books in particular required much more nuanced antagonists and protagonists because in the course of the story they all end up shaping one another.
Lisa: Speaking of Rifter, would you care to share with readers how it was almost the series that didn’t get published? Then we can all have a mass gasp of relief over it together. 😀
Ginn: Ah, yes. One of my finer moments. 🙂
I wrote The Rifter on a very old computer way back in the twentieth century, and at the time I visualized it as one very, very big book. I completed it in 2004 and shopped it around. Several editors liked it but none of them felt it was publishable. Not only did it focus on gay characters, but it was just too damn big to print.
I felt pretty disheartened. After all, I’d spent five years working on the book. But I try not to dwell on failures, so I moved on to work on my next project—Lord of the White Hell.
That was when my ancient computer informed me that its memory was full. If I wanted to keep writing my new project I would need to delete older files that were taking up too much space. (The old files were Wicked Gentlemen and the much larger Rifter.) So, I deleted The Rifter and moved on.
Then, years later, Gavin Grant of weightlessbooks.com wanted to try running a serial fiction story. He contacted Nicole Kimberling at Blind Eye Books and she remembered my Rifter novel. It was a perfect fit!
Nicole pitched the project to me and I smiled and nodded, while a cold sweat trickled down my back. At last I had to admit that I’d deleted the entire thing. I didn’t even have the computer I’d written it on anymore.
Some swearing followed.
But then Nicole—ever a problem solver—recalled that not only did she have some of the manuscript from back when I had been attempting to have it published, but that other people in my writers group did too. It took some real work, but eventually we were able to piece the entire manuscript back together. And then, of course, we cut it up into a ten-part serial. J There’s a sort of hilarious irony in that, I think.
Lisa: Let’s get to Maze-Born Trouble now, since that’s why we’re here today. Do you see this as the first book in a new series, or is this a one-off story?
Ginn: Well, Maze-born Trouble and Feral Machines share a universe, but they are each a stand-alone story. Neither of them require a reader to know about the other. I actually have a third, unpublished story that’s set in the same universe, as well. So in the loosest sense Maze-born Trouble is part of a trilogy and a stand-alone. J
Lisa: Tell us a bit about Lake Harmaa. What makes him tick?
Ginn: Lake doesn’t know it but he’s actually something of a noir detective: a mix of physical toughness and emotional vulnerability, with a long history of double-crosses and no shortage of enemies. Much of his identity is tied to his need to rise above the violence and corruption of the Maze sector of the space station where he grew up.
Lisa: This might be a silly question, but I’m going to ask anyway: do you approach writing sci-fi in a different way than fantasy? In other words, are there different “rules” to follow that are demanded by each genre?
Ginn: That’s quite a good question actually!
I think the two genres do differ but in a sort of subtle way. Often when I’m writing fantasy I know I have to explain how everything works because I’m creating an entirely fictional world and I have to find ways to signal to readers as to how fantastic the place really is. This allows me a great deal of freedom to engineer the axioms of the universe to suit the story I’m trying to tell, but it also requires that the rules I make up are in a way more streamlined and perfect than those of the real world. Too many contradictions and exceptions in a fantasy story can read as sloppy and inconsistent instead of complex or naturalistic.
But when I’m writing science-fiction, I’m drawing from science fact—or at least current theories— so I’m working with actual facts and systems. Some of those are quite complex and even a little strange at first. For example in Maze-born Trouble takes place on a huge space station, which houses gigantic ‘mass generators’. These create gravity for the station but also warp the movement of time, which in turn interrupts the communication systems. If I’d been writing a fantasy story I might not have linked the gravity to the passage of time but since this is science-fiction and masses really do bend the fabric of space-time, I had to include that detail—and find ways to work with it—in the world building.
Lisa: Would you care to share an excerpt from the book with us?
Ginn: Sure, I’d be happy to! This is a section from the beginning.
Lake Harmaa listened as the office vents coughed out a last breath of warm, clean air before falling quiet. The high-pitched hum of the lights continued for five seconds before dulling to a dim buzz. Utility bills went perpetually late and unpaid all across the old sectors. So no real surprise that the most recent nobody put in charge of Power & Life Support had decided to stage a shakedown. Though it gave away how little this new boy knew about the old sectors if he thought a couple of power-downs would scare anyone. Still, Lake couldn’t fault the first-timer for trying. He’d learn soon enough.
Although now that he considered it, two power-downs in two days struck Lake as odd. Too much paperwork and too many explanations to far-flung superiors to merit shaking loose such small change.
Maybe there was something more to this. A security test? Or maybe someone had put the new boy up to it.
None of it was Lake’s business—not unless someone paid him to make it his.
He leaned back in his chair pondering what remained of his office hours. Slim chance anybody would make anything his business during a power-down.
Out in the waiting room, the incessant murmur of the satellite scanner choked to silence. Lake’s office manager, Willow Jänis, swore at the scanner in that fond tone of hers—the same way she called her husband “worthless” like it was a rare attribute. Then she raised her voice to carry through the walls and over the wheeze of the emergency-floor lights. “You want me to stay on the clock or can I start drinking?”
The question both surprised and relieved Lake. Normally Jänis wanted all the hours she could get. Supporting an idealistic physician from one of Yuanxi’s biospheres didn’t come cheap. She’d just leased a new high-grav surgical suite for him. Lake gave her as much work as he could afford but he wasn’t running a charity—not like Jänis’s man.
“Give it ten minutes,” Lake replied. “Then bottoms up.”
On other stations—particularly the sleek Yuanxi biospheres that orbited Jag-eun sin’s A-class synthetic star like a strings of pearls—power-downs incited panic. But here aboard Sisu Station, darkness and stale air didn’t alarm most of the populace any more than the roaches or milk spiders skittering through the ducts. At least not the people living in the Maze or Arc sections—the old sectors. Up on the immense ribbons of the Drift, people expected better. Most likely, Power & Life Support’s comm lines already scorched with complaints delivered automatically from state-of-the-art homes and corporate office buildings.
Lake heard the soft gulp of liquid pouring from a bottle.
“That was a fast ten minutes,” he called, teasing.
“Nah, it’s a slow drink. I won’t be to the bottom too soon,” Jänis replied. “I need to get started before the cold creeps in too deep, don’t I?”
“That’s what the doctor orders, is it?”
“My worthless man? Sure he does. He hands out little gin bottles with all those charity inoculations he gives the Maze babies—” Jänis cut herself off as a loud knock sounded from the outer door. “Damn it,” she muttered.
Lake picked out the creak of manual hinges scraping open under the weight of dead hydraulics as Jänis pried the door open.
“He’s in,” Jänis said, then she called back to Lake, “And I’m heading out. I got a doctor’s appointment.”
“Sure. You gotta keep warm somehow,” Lake might have said more—pretended offense at her bothering to ask if she should stay when she never intended to—but the man coming through his door put a lid on his amusement.
Lake recognized the smell of him first. Strong and dry like old-world cedar and a couple of shots of vodka. It was the antiseptic scent of the police morgue. Lake listened to the man stride across the small office and heard the chair across from his desk creak as the man dropped his long frame onto the cheap seat. Fine variations in the gravity field rippled across Lake’s skin, caressing him with the other man’s unique mass signature.
Lake basked very briefly in the solid feel of DI Mateo Espina-Aguilar before recalling his manners and switching on his optics. A gentle tug on the lobe of his right ear and the dark shadow of the room resolved into sharp gray forms. At the same time Lake’s steady heartbeat quickened to feed the demand of the hungry silver implants.
Glinting details like the shine on Aguilar’s cheap suit, the tousled lines of his black hair, and the gleam of his dark, narrow eyes flitted through Lake’s awareness like chimes sounding in a storm. But the bulk of visual information came in big dull blocks. A closed security door, run-down room with recycled rubber nubs for a carpet, bare walls, a squat desk and a drink cabinet, which supported a fat little potted cactus.
And directly in front of Lake, a muscular man in his late thirties wearing a grim expression.
Smiling, Aguilar’s hard face could turn sort of charming. His heavy brows lifted, and the long scar that ran from his cheek to his chin, clipping through the left side of his mouth didn’t seem so deep or wide. But he wasn’t smiling today. Aguilar drew an old-fashioned quick-pad from his breast pocket and flicked it open to record.
An official visit, then. Lake didn’t let himself get disappointed about it.
“Four months back you were hunting for a runaway named Holly Ryan,” Aguilar stated in a flat official tone. “Eighteen-year-old female. 1.85 meters, well-fed, brown hair, green eyes and all natural teeth.”
“Yeah,” Lake agreed. He didn’t mind spilling the details of his private investigation to Aguilar. But that quick-pad meant Police Chief Cullen was likely to hear what he had to say, so Lake decided to keep his answers simple.
“How’d that work out?” Aguilar asked then he gave Lake a knowing nod. “You found her, right?”
“She wasn’t doing much to hide,” Lake replied. “She’d changed her identity to H. Ryan, planted herself up on the Drift, and gotten straight to burning through her mommy’s credit. Her other hobby was making real bad choices for her new best friends.”
“Any names you recall in particular?” Aguilar asked.
“Not off the top of my head,” Lake lied. “I’ll have to go back through my notes when the power’s back up.”
“Sure,” Aguilar agreed. “But she was alive and well when you last saw her?”
Now there was a telling question.
Lake kept from cracking any jokes that might have landed his ass in the middle of a possible homicide investigation.
“Yeah, she was,” he said. “That would have been months back—January, just after New Years—at Nam Yune’s place. The Ryan kid was sucking down noodles and losing a heap on the fighting beetles. I introduced myself and told her that her father was worried about her. She threw her tea at me while it was still in the pot. I didn’t bother to hang around for the cream and sugar.”
Aguilar cracked a quick smile Then asked, “Did you hear from or see her again after that?”
“No.” Lake shrugged. “I left my contact-chip on her table, but I don’t think she took it. She never messaged me, and I closed out the job with her dad the first of February. Like I said, I’ll forward my notes as soon as the power’s back up.”
“Alright. That sounds good for now. I might have more questions later.” Aguilar snapped the quick-pad shut and took the extra precaution of powering it completely off before he tucked it away in his pocket.
“One of Nam Yune’s servers says you gave the Ryan girl a good shake and advised her to go home before she got herself killed.” Now that the recording was over, amusement crept into Aguilar’s voice, lending it familiar warmth.
“I may have,” Lake admitted. The teakettle rocketing through the air, spitting scalding water across the crowded room had roused a bit of indignation in him. Though that alone hadn’t inspired him to pull the girl out of her booth seat. There’d been a sneering quality about Holly Ryan’s posture and tone that begged for a hard knock. She’d angered him and worried him at once because Sisu Station wasn’t a place to tromp around in high-priced heels crushing other people’s toes.
Just the precariousness of the station itself lent a kind of hardness to the people who called it home. Sisu Station whipped around the edge of an artificial black hole—a failed first attempt at igniting a synthetic star like Yuanxi. The citizens of all three sectors: the Maze, the Arc and the Drift shared a history of oppression, warfare and famine. Many people had endured hard times and survived in ways that didn’t bear scrutiny. Most didn’t want more trouble, but they’d hit hard if they felt disrespected.
Lake had wanted Holly Ryan to understand that, if she meant to stay. He supposed the advice hadn’t taken.
“You thirsty?” Lake asked.
“Always,” Aguilar replied. With the chill of space steadily creeping in, his breath plumed like smoke from his lips.
Lake rose and walked the few steps to his drinks cabinet. The cut-crystal facets ringing the lowball glasses felt like chips of ice. Aguilar took his liquor neat, Lake remembered. So he poured out two hard, dry tots.
He handed off one of the glasses to Aguilar and returned to his own chair. Aguilar took a sip and a soft low sigh of satisfaction escaped him.
“I don’t suppose the Ryan kid OD’d?” Lake asked.
“Lab says she was well on the way but didn’t get the chance.” Aguilar took another drink. “Yesterday someone popped her security door, put a bolt gun to the back of her head and dropped her. Her place was turned over but it didn’t look like much was taken. Aside from her eyes. Those the killer cut out and left in her hands.”
“Same as the Loviatars did to the Feds?” Lake asked.
“Looks that way.”
Lake took a deep gulp of his gin. It felt like ice water and gasoline going down his throat.
Lake had been a eight years old when Federal forces rediscovered Sisu Station and the population that had grown up there after two centuries of isolation. Then the forgotten outpost had consisted only of the primary phase of construction: the fused asteroids and mass generator that comprised the Maze. It had been a dark, humid labyrinth filled with insects, boiling chemical pools and an overworked populace ruled by a cult leader.
Less than a month after contact, Federal forces had descended into the tunnels, intent upon liberating the common people from their Loviatar overlord. Federalists had anticipated a brief conflict fought remotely via synthetic drones. But the dark, magnetically charged tunnels that made up the Maze had disrupted Federalist equipment and communications. The intense gravity rendered projectile weapons useless. Soon fighting degenerated to a brutal hand-to-hand combat that stretched on for three years. In the end the Federalists had recruited Maze-born insurgents—Lake among them—to break the Loviatar stronghold.
Nowadays minor malcontents in the Maze sometimes fronted themselves as New Loviatars. But their current political actions amounted to little more than a couple of smashed surveillance recorders and a few terrible folk songs—one of which even mentioned Lake and his ultimate treason by name.
But mutilating bodies? That was a little antiquated even for the few surviving devotees.
“Could the mutilation have been a coincidence?” Lake asked.
“No.” Aguilar shook his head. “The slits in the palms were exact. They could have been from a forensic recording of the war.”
Lake and he both drank in silence for a moment.
“She had your contact-chip in her bedroom,” Aguilar went on. “That combined with the Loviatar angle…”
Lake scowled. The last thing he needed was to get dragged back into the same old Loviatar bullshit. Just being brought up in the cult had already cost him more than one job despite the fact that he’d fought for the Federalists.
“I’m surprised Chief Cullen hasn’t arrested me already,” Lake muttered.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Aguilar replied. “Turns out Cullen was a friend of the girl’s family. He knew her when she was a kid.”
“Shit. He’s going to try and nail me for this, isn’t he?”
“He wanted to, believe me.” Aguilar grimaced. “But you have an alibi.”
“Yeah?” Lake asked because that was news to him.
“You dropped by my place around seven, we played cards and drank beer until midnight. You slept on my couch,” Aguilar supplied.
Lake considered how bad his position with Cullen must have been for Aguilar to cover up for him.
“Are public-corridor records going to back you up?” Lake asked.
“The power-down didn’t provide enough light for any recording,” Aguilar reminded him. “Which works out nicely for you and me, but also means there is no record of who came or went through the corridors leading to Holly Ryan’s suite either.”
Lake pondered his drink, weighing how clearheaded he needed to be. With reluctance he set his glass aside.
“That seems like a very convenient power-down,” Lake thought aloud.
“Could be,” Aguilar agreed. “Or it could have been someone seizing on an opportunity.”
“But to do that the killer would still need to know when the power-down would occur and for how long.” Lake frowned up at the dim haze of the security light in his ceiling. He’d been informed that it glowed a dirty yellow, but to him it radiated a faint gray halo into deeper gray shadows. When he thought of yellow as a thing—a color—the soft hum of security lights filled his mind. Red screamed from a siren and filled the air with the sharp tang of smoke. Blue was the muted drum of Federalist boots in a corridor and the hiss of burn-rounds powering up in a weapon.
Just now, something in the outer corridor sounded a little too blue. Lake closed his eyes and felt the faint ripples of the station’s gravity washing up from the Maze and rolling over him. Through the familiar distortions of wall studs, wiring, and cheap furniture he picked out two—maybe three—big masses. Could have been drunks or a maid with her cart—except for the deadly whisper of those burn-rounds.
“The heavies in the hallway aren’t with you, are they?” Lake asked as he pulled his automatic from his shoulder holster.
“No.” Aguilar set his drink on Lake’s desk, stood and drew his own weapon. “How do you want to do this?”
Lisa: What are you working on now, and what can we expect coming from you next? Do you have a timeframe for your upcoming release(s)?
Ginn: I just completed three novellas all set in a steampunk-style wild west, filled with mages and dinosaurs. Two of the shorter novellas are being released this year in anthologies: “The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus,” in Magic and Mayhem, and “Get Lucky,” in Once Upon a Time in the Weird West (which will be released this December). The third novella, The Long Past, will appear as part of a complete collection of my weird west stories in January of 2018.
As for what I’m writing now, I’m currently working on the third set of books following the Hellions from Lord of the White Hell. These books will focus on Atreau, Fedeles, Ariz Plunado and the new character of Narsi. I’m really excited about this story because I’ve been building to it throughout the last four books.
Lisa: Thanks a bunch for stopping by today, Ginn, it’s been great to have you with us! Would you care to share where we can find you on the internet?
Ginn: Thank you for having me and indulging my long, rambling responses. 🙂
I’m on twitter @ginnhale and I have a website where there are a number of free stories posted www.ginnhale.com. Folks can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I pop up from time to time on facebook.
About the Book
A dead girl, a cop he can’t forget, and a price on his head. All on a space station at the edge of a black hole. Just another day’s work for P.I. Lake Harmaa.
P.I. Lake Harmaa escaped the darkness and intense gravity of Sisu Space Station’s Maze Sector by turning traitor and spying for the Feds during the war.
He has no intention of risking his neck by going back down into those depths, where there’s a price on his head and more than a few souls who wouldn’t mind him turning up dead.
But when he’s framed for a brutal murder, Lake realizes he must return to the Maze and settle old scores.