Will Warren Hammond and Carrie Vaughn Go Where No Local Sci Fi Writers Have Gone Before?

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Just as Hammond's introduction ends, a woman with wire-rimmed glasses and pale blond hair sneaks behind him and takes the seat to his right. "Hey, you guys started early," she says with a laugh, putting out her name plate and a stack of business cards. "My name is Carrie Vaughn. I write a bunch of stuff. I'm probably best known for the Kitty Norville urban-fantasy series. The next book in that series, Low Midnight, is due in December. Good morning."

It's a good morning indeed at MileHiCon 46. The annual convention, founded in 1969 and held in late October, has become the gathering place for Colorado's SF/F tribe. This year, more than 1,200 attendees, guests, vendors and volunteers have converged on the hotel, according to programming chair Rose Beetem, and the place is hectic.

Vaughn's and Hammond's lives have been hectic lately as well. Not only do they both have new novels coming out in December, but each of those books is a leap of faith. Vaughn's Low Midnight is the fourteenth installment of her best-selling Kitty series -- but instead of focusing on its eponymous main character, a werewolf who lives in Boulder and hosts a talk-radio show, Low Midnight spotlights Cormac, the series' tormented, werewolf-hunting antihero. It's the kind of sharp left turn that runs the risk of enraging readers of an ongoing series, especially those as passionate as Vaughn's fans are about Kitty.

Hammond's new book is also a departure. Tides of Maritinia has nothing to do with his KOP series, the third book of which, KOP Killer, won the Colorado Book Award for Crime/Mystery in 2013. Set on an alien planet whose technology is being suppressed by an advanced empire, Tides of Maritinia is part of a fledgling HarperCollins imprint called Voyager Impulse, an experiment in releasing novels as e-books first, then following later with physical editions.

Both authors are strongly rooted in the local SF/F scene, at a time when those genres are exploding across the country, thanks to the mainstream success of everything from Guardians of the Galaxy to Game of Thrones. Vaughn is even a regular contributor to the Wild Cards books, a long-running superhero anthology series co-edited by Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin, and she's writing a Wild Cards graphic novel, set to be published by Random House. And Hammond has been in talks with Hollywood about the film rights to KOP, though he's hesitant to discuss any details. Despite the current popularity of SF/F right now, however, Vaughn and Hammond still wrestle with a longtime challenge: how to convince the vast majority of people who don't consider themselves SF/F fans to venture into their world.

"The human mind wants to categorize," Hammond says as the panel winds down. "When people go shopping, they want to be able to find things that they know they like. Categorization can be a double-edged sword. If you say, 'I am this,' and there's a whole audience out there that likes this, then it's good. But I think we as genre writers sometimes run the risk of categorizing ourselves too much.

"For instance, as I was writing my KOP books, I was thinking, 'This is great. Mystery readers will read them and science-fiction readers will read them. I'll appeal to two audiences.' What tends to happen instead, as I learned, was that mystery readers say, 'I don't read science fiction,' and science-fiction readers say, 'I don't read mystery.' So sometimes you actually end up marginalizing yourself. We geek ourselves out too much, and we become a little insular."

Vaughn agrees: "When aspiring writers ask me about how they should target their writing, I tell them to pay no attention to that kind of thing. It will restrict you. You will end up falling into stereotypes in an effort to tailor your work toward a perceived genre category. You run the risk of making your work look like everyone else's."

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller