Jason Hough is a former 3D artist and game designer. Writing fiction became a hobby for him in 2007, and quickly turned into an obsession. He started writing THE DARWIN ELEVATOR in 2008 as a NaNoWriMo project, and kept refining the manuscript until 2011, when it sold to Del Rey along with a contract for two sequels. The book released on July 30th in the US, and reached the New York Times Bestseller list the following week.
Henry: A three-book deal with Del Rey from a previously unpublished author? Damn! How did I meet Jason, you ask? Standing in line next to him waiting to meet Orson Scott Card.
How did you get your start as an author?
In the beginning, 2003 or so, writing was a way to fill the creative void in my life that had resulted from leaving the game industry. Years passed without much progress, though, until I discovered NaNoWriMo and decided to give it a try. The approach of writing for quantity over quality at the outset really worked well for me, and pretty soon I found myself with a complete first draft of THE DARWIN ELEVATOR. I knew it wasn’t ready, though, so I sought the help of a freelance editor, worked on it based on his feedback for another year, and then finally submitted to an agent. After a revised first chapter she agreed to take me on as a client, and about ten months later (after another round of revisions) we submitted it to publishers, and I had the great fortune to receive multiple offers.
Henry: In addition to being a skillful writer and nice guy, Jason was apparently born lucky. His agent, Sara Megibow, is a delightful lady and a very good agent.
Tell us about your latest book.
Most recently published was THE PLAGUE FORGE, the third book in the Dire Earth Cycle. It concludes the story told in that trilogy, while also opening the door for a whole new adventure in that universe.
Henry: And by “opening the door for a whole new adventure”, can we expect more from Jason? Yes. Yes we can.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope they’ll find a satisfactory conclusion to the main storyline, but still feel eager to read more. As for the series itself, I hope people enjoy the books the way I intended: as fun, accessible science fiction.
Henry: Mission accomplished. I gave THE DARWIN ELEVATOR five stars.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
For me it’s simply putting in the work, day after day. That’s the only way I know to get to the end, but it can be incredibly rough to write on days when you’re not feeling good about yourself or the story. The only option is to power through it, because skipping days just leads to a giant, stress-inducing backlog.
Henry: This is known as the “eating the elephant one bite at a time” approach.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
That the basic concepts you need to master to tell a compelling story are valuable in all sorts of ways. I think a lot of people could improve in their careers if they understood story structure. Having worked in a corporate setting, I can tell you most PowerPoint presentations that bore their audience do so because they present information in a way completely counter to how a story should be told, and that is of course what you’re trying to do with such a thing.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Early on I was at a conference and at one point found myself watching a World Series baseball game in the bar with Guy Gavriel Kay, my favorite author. It was great to just simply hangout with someone I admire so much.
Henry: So having me take a photo of you with Orson Scott Card comes in a distant second?
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Most of the typical advice I’ll assume aspiring authors have heard already. So I’ll share my best original bit of advice: listen to audiobooks. Seriously, it’s such a great way to gain a new appreciation for language and pace. Print books are great of course, but it is too easy to skim (we do it subconsciously).
Henry: That is indeed an original and helpful bit of advice. Plus, it means you can read while you drive. Well played, sir.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
If you’re having trouble writing a scene, do what a friend of mine suggested: “Close your eyes and watch the movie.” It’s a simple trick, but so powerful. Paint the scene in your mind first, then immediately write it. Or, at least, jot down the details. As a side benefit your writing will become much more visual.
Henry: Plus, if your wife catches you napping, you can claim you were “watching the movie.” * writes note to self *
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
Not really. NaNoWriMo taught me to write everyday, no matter what the situation. I think the only thing for me is that I can’t listen to music with lyrics when I write; the words are too distracting.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
The writer in me wants the power to experience life as other people, to truly be inside their head and see the world through their lens, as it were.
Henry: But the kid in you… wants to FLY! A unique and sensible request for an author. Hopefully viewing the world through a villain’s eyes wouldn’t rub off in any way.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Richard Feynman, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Ian Fleming. A varied bunch that I’d love to simply chat with, no agenda, and hope some of their brilliance can be absorbed in the process.
Henry: Or course, Ian Fleming created James Bond (does Ian drink martinis too?) and worked for British Naval Intelligence during World War II. Guy Gavriel Kay not only wrote the award-winning The Fionavar Tapestry, but helped Christopher Tolkien edit The Silmarillion (that’s as close to fantasy author divinity as it gets). Richard Feynman is best known for his role as a theoretical physicist on the Manhattan Project, but he also wrote books to popularize physics and two semi-autobiographical books.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
The sentient spaceships of the Culture in Iain M. Banks’s novels. I just love their varied personalities and interactions. He writes them so amazingly well.
Henry: Sadly, Mr. Banks is no longer with us, but his writing has been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Locus Poll Award, British Fantasy Award, the John Campbell Award, and the Hugo Award. His writing has won the British Science Fiction Association Award and the Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis Award.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
These days I pretty much just spend time with my kids. They’re at that age (4 and 2) where they crave constant attention. Writing was my hobby until it became a full-time career early in 2013, and I’ve yet to find the time to replace it with something else. Video games are still a passion, but at the moment I don’t have the time to invest in them. Looking forward to when my eldest son is old enough to get into some co-op games with me, though!
Henry: I involve my two sons in my writing projects. Maybe you’ll involve yours as they get older.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
I’ve no desire for a tombstone. Scatter my ashes in the River Dochart, throw an epic party, and move on.
Where can readers find your work?
All the usual places, though of course the best option is their local independent bookstore!
Henry: Where I first met Jason – at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego.
Jason with my co-author sons Harrison and Josh, at ConDor 2013.
This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.