A chat with Jason M. Hough, on his new novella, The Dire Earth, and what comes next

Photo by Nathan Hough, age 3

Photo by Nathan Hough, age 3

If you are a regular visitor to the blog, you already know that I love Jason Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle (The Darwin Elevator, The Exodus Towers, and The Plague Forge), and was very sad to see it end, but wait! There’s a new prequel novella out (just this week, and it’s only $.99!) called The Dire Earth, so if you’re jonesin’ for more of Skylar and the gang, get on that asap. In the meantime, Jason stopped by to answer a few questions about it, and what comes next for him.

So, this new novella of yours…care to give us the scoop? The Dire Earth is a prequel to the novels, yes?
A prequel, yes! It actually started out as a series of short stories, each meant to introduce one character. But as I wrote them I realized a few things. First, I’m not great at short stories. They always end up feeling like part of something bigger. And second, each of these stories had a common theme: set during the same events (when the plague begins and everyone is trying to get to Darwin). So, I talked to my editor and proposed the idea of combining them into a novella, and thus The Dire Earth was born.

I adore the Dire Earth Series, as you know, and I’d love to know what you enjoyed the most about writing it.
The initial planning that goes into each book is very fun. The actual writing of the first draft? That is a slog through giant puddles of slurping mud. Not so fun, just… work you have to do. The real joy, for me, comes in the revision process. You know when you suddenly think of something incredibly clever to say, only it’s an hour after the conversation where you should have said it? Well, revising a book is like getting the opportunity to go back and do that, again and again and again. Loads of fun!

thedireearthI enjoyed all of the characters, with a few faves, but one fascinated me on a different level. So, let’s talk about Russell Blackfield a bit. I loved to hate him and he…surprised me. What was your inspiration for him?
He’s definitely an interesting cat. The funny thing about Russell is that he’s not really the villain. Everyone thinks he is, but that’s just a sort of misdirection on my part. In truth it’s just that Russell wants to be the villain. He craves the stature of Alex Warthen, the power and wealth of Neil Platz, the gravity that seems to follow Grillo, and ultimately the adoration that Skyler receives. He just never quite gets there, and somewhere inside he knows he never will, so he acts like he does as a mask to cover that. Writing him is a lot of fun, especially in this new novella.

What were a few other characters that you particularly enjoyed writing, aside from your main players?
Well, certainly Greg and Marcus were a blast, for the few brief moments they appear. And though arguably a main player by the end, Prumble is my favorite of all.

Has your writing process changed much since you started writing? I know it has to be a challenge when writing any series to keep details organized. How do you do it?
For my new book, due next summer and totally unrelated to the DIRE EARTH books, I set some time aside after the first draft to create a “world bible”. That was new for me, and something I wish I’d done with the DIRE EARTH novels. It’s 50 pages or so, full of character descriptions and maps and a dictionary, all that stuff. I don’t know if it will ever be used by anyone outside of myself and the copyeditor, but I found it extremely helpful to create because it forced me to reconcile a bunch of small contradictions. And, in revisions, it’s been an immense aid in making sure everything is consistent.

Beyond that, my process hasn’t changed much since THE PLAGUE FORGE, other than the fact that I’m now writing full-time so things aren’t quite so frantic.

So, three books all released in under 3 months during 2013…was it a whirlwind? What’s something you know now that you wish you’d known when you first became published? Any advice for aspiring authors?
A whirlwind is putting in mildly, but I can’t really complain. The release plan allowed me to finish all three books before the first came out. That took a lot of pressure off me, and as a debut author that helped my nerves a lot.

I wish I’d known that everything I knew would be mostly useless. Every author’s path is different. All the advice you get, the warnings and the success tips, is only marginally applicable. Whatever path you envision for yourself, the only guarantee seems to be that it’s not what will happen. So, I guess the advice to upcoming debut authors is just to buckle in and hang on, and see where the road takes you without worrying too much if it’s not where you thought you wanted to go.

Have you found time to read any good books lately?
My favorite genre book recently was THE EMPEROR’S BLADES by Brian Staveley. And I’ve become obsessed in the last few months with the crime novels of South African author Deon Meyer. I picked one up because it was on sale, and I had been looking for something outside my usual wheelhouse. Before I knew it I’d read six of them, and I’m about to start a seventh! His characters are brilliant.

What’s next for you? You did mention in our last interview that you were plotting more books in this universe…
The quick answer is I’m working on a totally new thing, a standalone novel. It’s sci-fi and has a heavy espionage bent. At the moment the title and cover are still under wraps, but it’s on schedule and due out in September 2015.

The longer answer… well, what happened was the DIRE EARTH books came out in summer 2013, and originally I’d been led to expect it would be six months to a year before Del Rey would assess their performance and decide if they wanted to offer me another contract. But the books came out and did very well right out of the gate. So well in fact that my editor asked me to send him a proposal for 3 more books in that series pronto. Which I did, and now have 3 more DIRE EARTH books plotted and ready to go. But, to both my editor and my surprise, when he took that proposal to his bosses they said, “sounds good, but let’s do something else first. Give those first three books some time to breathe.” My editor came back to me and said, “what else ya got?” Luckily I keep a little spreadsheet of ideas, so I raided that and pulled out five favorites, and wrote up pitches for those. In the end, they loved one and said that I should write that next, and that they’d give me a 3-book contract with the 2nd and 3rd being listed as TBD.

So my next book is something new, and I’m under contract for two more which have not been defined yet, and that’s where things stand right now. I should know in the next few months if I’m going to work on more new things next, or if I’ll get to return to Skyler and Co. I’m happy either way!

Keep up with Jason: Website | Twitter

Jason M. Hough goes back to the beginning with this eBook exclusive novella, the prequel to the New York Times bestseller The Darwin Elevator. An indispensable introduction to a trilogy wrought with action, imagination, and mystery, The Dire Earth is sure to thrill new readers and diehard fans alike.

In the middle of the twenty-third century, an inexplicable disease engulfs the globe, leaving a trail of madness and savagery in its wake. Dutch air force pilot Skyler Luiken discovers he is immune to the disease when he returns from a mission to find the world in chaos, but he soon realizes that he’s not the only one to have endured the apocalypse. Elsewhere, the roguish Skadz, the cunning Nigel, and the tough-as-nails Samantha each make their way toward the last remaining bastion of sanity: Darwin, Australia, home to a mysterious alien artifact that may hold the key to the survival of the human race.

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