Welcome to the latest installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.
Today, as an unabashed fan of stories about smart people kicking butt and lots of explosions, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to interview SL Huang, self-described speculative fiction writer, mathematician and gunslinger. (The first two I get; I’m not sure if the last is meant literally, or if it’s a deft metaphor for self-publishing!)
SL has had short fiction and essays published in a wide range of venues, but is probably best known for the Russell’s Attic series of contemporary science fiction thrillers. The self-published series focuses on Cas Russell, a mercenary heroine whose superpower is being really, really good at math. SL just released the third volume in the series, Root of Unity:
Cas Russell has always used her superpowered mathematical skills to dodge snipers or take down enemies. Oh, yeah, and make as much money as possible on whatever unsavory gigs people will hire her for. But then one of her few friends asks a favor: help him track down a stolen math proof. One that, in the wrong hands, could crumble encryption protocols worldwide and utterly collapse global commerce.
Cas is immediately ducking car bombs and men with AKs — this is the type of math people are willing to kill for, and the U.S. government wants it as much as the bad guys do. But all that pales compared to what Cas learns from delving into the proof. Because the more she works on the case, the more she realizes something is very, very wrong . . . with her.
For the first time, Cas questions her own bizarre mathematical abilities. How far they reach. How they tie into the pieces of herself that are broken — or missing.
How the new proof might knit her brain back together . . . while making her more powerful than she’s ever imagined.
Desperate to fix her fractured self, Cas dives into the tangled layers of higher mathematics, frantic for numerical power that might not even be possible — and willing to do anything, betray anyone, to get it.
Root of Unity, and the other volumes in the Russell’s Attic series, are available through your preferred online bookseller. You can find a complete list of SL Huang’s works, and how to find them, here.
[SGM] Welcome to the blog! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?
[SLH] It feels so funny to be asked this, because I still feel like a raw beginner! When did I break in? Um. Ask me again in ten years?
I think the funniest thing about “breaking in” is that it rarely feels like I think it will. It always feels like just another day, just another step, just the next piece of work. And suddenly people are looking at me saying, “how did you get there?” and all I can think is, “Well, I took a step, and then I took another step, and another one . . .”
What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?
I had something I thought was a strategy (publish book! publish more book!), but it turned out only to be the beginnings of a journey — essentially, I had the tools to jump off the ledge, but I had no idea what I’d find as I fell.
Did it work? Well, yes, I jumped! But at every turn I’ve learned more or found new opportunities, so to mix some metaphors, since then my journey has been multiplying and growing in unexpected directions like some sort of weird fungus.
If I feel qualified to offer only one piece of advice to beginning writers, it’s this — embrace that expanding fungus! Say yes to opportunities. Let The Plan branch. If you find yourself holding the ball, don’t question it, run with it — as fast as possible and as far as possible and as long as possible.
And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
Sadly, the things I’d like to do differently mostly involve stuff that’s beyond my control. For instance, above all I really, really wish I were a faster, more prolific writer. I can push myself to an extent in this area, but I don’t naturally write as fast as I’d like to in order to grow my career in the way I’d prefer.
But that’s all right! Because something else I’ve been discovering is that there’s never only one path to anything.
Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?
It’s unlike what I expected in that, in a lot of ways, it’s exactly the same. Every day I try to write more of the next book, and it’s hard work and I doubt my abilities and I worry about whether people will like it.
The only difference is that I’m making enough money through writing to pay for my health insurance. Oh, and perhaps that I get asked to do author interviews about having broken in! Ha!
What are you working on now?
The bulk of my writing time right now is going to Book 5 of the Russell’s Attic series. That book will be called Golden Mean, and it’s a story more about Cas’s friends than it is about her. Book 6, Binary Operator, will return to the larger mytharc.
At least, that’s the plan. But you know what I said about plans above . . .
How can people keep up with you online?
Thanks to SL Huang for such a thoughtful and informative interview! I’ve been a fan of the Russell’s Attic series from the moment I read the first two lines of Zero Sum Game:
“I trusted one person in the entire world. He was currently punching me in the face.”
I mean come on, what more do you need?
Coming up next on the blog: I suppose after three interview posts in a row, I should really talk about myself again? So, a State of the Me post it is, then. Also, because people have been asking, a call and some guidelines for others who might be interested in participating in a Breaking In interview.