Please welcome Essa Hansen to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Nophek Gloss is published on November 17, 2020 by Orbit.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
Essa: My mom recounts stories from before I can remember, but the first one I recall—maybe nine years old?—was a fantasy short story set around a large willow tree growing out of the middle of a pool of water, in a courtyard in the center of a castle. There was a young girl and a mystery and a magical pendant that had gotten lost—sounds quite standard!
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Essa: I’m a hybrid. I plot more now than I did when I was starting out, due to a better understanding of structure and pacing. I start with the big set piece scenes then begin to build connective tissue and logic, until I have a decent outline. As I get ideas or visions or snippets of dialogue, I’ll insert these in my outlined chapters, but when I get to drafting, I move linearly and discovery-write the scenes themselves. The moment-by moment flow, details, and dialogue are all new to me as I’m writing the scene.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Essa: My main challenge is translating my imaginative concepts and visuals into narrative, description, and emotion that a reader can easily absorb. I’m neurodivergent and a synesthete, so the way I perceive and process the world is atypical, and the way my ideas come out on the page is deeply sensory and a bit convoluted, so I need to actively sculpt my prose and ideas into better clarity while not losing the evocative and wondrous aspects that readers find refreshing and unique.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Essa: I absorb inspiration from all over; not just art and media, but my personal experiences and time spent in nature, as well as less commonly utilized fields such as very theoretical cosmology and quantum physics, pseudoscience, occult science, philosophy, and metaphysics. When I’m developing something new—like an alien, creature, environment, or technology—I tend to merge bits of inspiration into my original concept or take a piece as a starting place and extrapolate it in a new direction. Often my inspiration is simply brainstorming “what haven’t I seen before in the genre?”
TQ: Describe Nophek Gloss using only 5 words.
Essa: Oh, I’m bad at these so I’m going to steal from Alastair Reynolds’s blurb of the book: “Intricate, vivid, and psychedelic cosmos.”
TQ: Tell us something about Nophek Gloss that is not found in the book description.
Essa: The book description actually doesn’t describe the bubble multiverse! A collection of spherical universes of varying sizes (fist-sized to galactic scale), all on the same timeline and stuck together like a vast foam, with dividing membranes that can be passed through easily. Each universe has a unique deviation in the laws of physics, meaning that material, biology, and technology is transformed as it passes from one universe to another.
TQ: What inspired you to write Nophek Gloss? What appeals to you about writing science fiction?
Essa: Nophek Gloss is a revenge story with a heart of personal growth and the navigation of complex morality. The protagonist’s journey to find belonging and roots is drawn from my own experiences as a neurodiverse and mixed-race person. Meanwhile the setting is inspired by the obscure sciences I love, and the immersive writing comes directly from my own sensory peculiarities and creative work in film.
In far-flung or secondary world science fiction, I love that we’re allowed to get away entirely from the familiarity of Earth both as a location and as the basis of our ideas. We get to overturn the concept of “normal” by showing other possibilities. At the same time, the stories remain very human, exploring humanity and being through entirely new contexts. There’s incredible power in that.
TQ: You are a sound designer for science fiction and fantasy films. Do you hear your novels when writing?
Essa: I definitely add a lot of sound and five-senses immersion in my novels. Through a combination of hypersensitivity and synesthesia (in which usually separate senses are cross-wired), I feel sounds in my body and as a sort of extended landscape of texture and density in space, of which my nervous system is taking part. It’s…tricky to describe. While writing, even if I’m not “hearing” the story in my mind, my unique experience with the sensory world comes out in my writing style and unusual word choices. Also, working in film sound makes me hyper aware of story elements like environmental atmosphere, the material quality of things, and their motion through space, which definitely influences how I describe action and setting.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Nophek Gloss?
Essa: I drew on a lot of fields of study I had delved into for enjoyment in the past, such as Cymatics, fluid dynamics, string theory, vibratory physics, concepts of the basis of reality and consciousness, cognitive science, emergent structures, and artificial intelligence…to name a few. Of course, I also had to research basic space travel things like time dilation, FTL, types of stellar drives, and so on.
I often start with a visual or experiential idea first and then backpedal into the science to flesh out my concept. For instance, in Nophek Gloss there’s an alien species who I wanted to emote via chromatophores on their skin, like many cephalopods, so I turned from that concept to the actual science of how and why, and in what detail or words I could describe the effect without getting too technical.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Nophek Gloss.
Essa: The cover illustration is by Mike Heath and the design by Lauren Panepinto. It depicts Caiden’s unique starship, the Azura, which holds a lot of secrets and continues to evolve as the books go on.
TQ: In Nophek Gloss who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Essa: I always have one character who springs off the page fully-formed and feels effortless to write. For this book that was En, the crew’s negotiator, gambler, trader, charmer, muscle, and general rogue with a questionable past. En is genderfluid, dangerous but gregarious and will defend loved ones in a heartbeat, and full of snarky dialogue that sparked onto the page—which surprised me because I thought I was poor at dialogue but En’s always comes through so easily.
The hardest character to write was the story’s central antagonist, but those details are too spoilery to say!
TQ: Which question about Nophek Gloss do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Essa: Q: What “cutting room floor” scene do you miss?
A: I had a moment in the story where Caiden experiences music for the first time in his life. I loved both the wondrous emotion of that moment and the challenge of clearly describing music without using any instrumental terminology.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Nophek Gloss.
Essa: Here’s a little excerpt:
Squeezing inside, he ran his fingers over a complex central engine bulk stretching the length of the room. He hadn’t seen such materials ever, even in the deepest sections of the aerators: some white and fleshy, glassy and scaled, coppery rings that bristled when his fingertips drew near. It looked like a hundred different animals stitched together on one set of bones.
“Maybe you’re alive. A huge creature wearing a hard shell.”
Ridiculous. Machines weren’t alive. But he smiled and swore that some of the materials he touched inside the machine were warm.
TQ: What's next?
Essa: I’m working through revisions of the second book in The Graven trilogy, which releases in Fall 2021. In the meantime, I’ll be doing virtual discussions, panels, and interviews for the launch of Nophek Gloss in November—readers can catch up with me at those!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
The Graven 1
Orbit, November 17, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages
"A sucker punch to the senses...a killer story with real heart and soul."-Alastair Reynolds
When a young man's planet is destroyed, he sets out on a single-minded quest for revenge across the galaxy in Nophek Gloss, the first book in this epic space opera trilogy debut -- perfect for fans of Revenger and Children of Time.
Caiden's planet is destroyed. His family gone. And, his only hope for
survival is a crew of misfit aliens and a mysterious ship that seems to
have a soul and a universe of its own. Together they will show him that
the universe is much bigger, much more advanced, and much more
mysterious than Caiden had ever imagined. But the universe hides dangers
as well, and soon Caiden has his own plans.
He vows to do anything it takes to get revenge on the slavers who
murdered his people and took away his home. To destroy their regime, he
must infiltrate and dismantle them from the inside, or die trying.
Essa Hansen grew up in the beautifully wild areas of California. She has ranched bison and sheep, trained horses, practiced Japanese swordsmanship, and is a licensed falconer. She attended the Vancouver Film School and works as a sound designer for Skywalker Sound where she’s worked on films such as Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnorok, and Avengers: Endgame. Essa now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.