Literature

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

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Like Vaughn, Warren Hammond moved around a lot as a kid -- but for different reasons. He was born in Bronxville, New York, but his parents moved him and his sister, who is six years his elder, to various towns in the Hudson River Valley and New Jersey, with sojourns in Florida and Arizona. His parents divorced when he was nine. His mother, a secretary and stay-at-home mom, soon got remarried, to a man who worked as a surveyor, then a house flipper, then a farmer. That restlessness led to a disjointed upbringing for Hammond and his sister; by his estimate, he attended seven schools scattered around the country before settling in Rhinebeck, New York, for the entirety of high school.

"It was hard," he says of his itinerant childhood. "To this day, I'm a very reserved person, and I'm slow to form personal connections. I think part of that is just my native personality, and some of that was probably reinforced by moving around so much. I made friends kind of by accident. Someone would reach out to me first. I was a very quiet kid."

Unlike Vaughn, Hammond did not read much science fiction as a kid, nor did he have an aptitude for writing -- to put it lightly. "I hated English class," he says. "I didn't like being told what to read, and I didn't like being told what to write. I think that was my idea of writing, that it was unpleasant. That was my worst subject in school." He did, however, love reading. "I read more than average growing up, but I wasn't the type of kid who sat in a corner and read all day," he recalls. "I worked on the family farm. I did a lot of hard labor, then we'd load up the van at three in the morning and sell produce at the farmers' market."

As much as Hammond loathed writing, it was in his blood. His grandfather Clyde A. Farnsworth was a journalist for the Associated Press, and his uncle Clyde H. Farnsworth wrote for the New York Times. Farnsworth the younger also wrote a novel. "It was called Shadow Wars," Hammond says, "and it was published in the early '90s. It's a spy novel, like an international-intrigue thriller. It involves nuclear fusion, and all the Russian spies and CIA agents are trying to get it.

"I didn't really get much from them when it comes to the writing process," he adds, "but they loved to read, and that, at least, was infectious to me. I never looked at them as a kid, though, and said, 'Boy, that's what I want to do.'"

After graduating from high school, Hammond attended the University at Albany, SUNY. Again he avoided English, instead studying to be a Spanish teacher. But his family's wanderlust kicked in; upon getting his undergrad degree in 1990, he moved to Colorado, mostly because of fond memories he had of driving through the state years earlier when his family had moved from Arizona back to New York. A brief stay in Boulder didn't do it for him, so he relocated to Denver, working first at an after-school program and then as a fourth-grade teacher. The job didn't last long. "There was a lot of bureaucracy," he says. "It really frustrated me. I realized that teaching kids wasn't my calling." Instead, he found work as a computer instructor for a private company, a job he still holds.

Teaching corporate types how to use software could have been the sum of Hammond's professional career. But something else happened: He got sucked into science fiction. Although he'd been raised on Planet of the Apes, Star Wars and Lost in Space -- "There's one episode of Lost in Space where the robot goes evil, and that terrified me when I was little. Every time Lost in Space came on, I'd run screaming and crying," he remembers -- his real immersion in the genre started with Michael Crichton. Hooked on Crichton's blend of real-world suspense and speculative technology, he began spending time at the Tattered Cover Book Store in Cherry Creek, reading the lists the store supplied of winners of SF/F's big awards, the Hugo and the Nebula. "This was before you could Google 'good science-fiction book,'" he notes. "I started with those lists, and I just read nothing but science fiction for almost ten years: Lois McMaster Bujold, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov."

Hammond was so inspired by science fiction that before long, he'd begun writing a novel of his own. "I had an idea for a story, and it was going to be contemporary science fiction, more in the Crichton mold," he says. "I started writing this story, and I had no idea what I was doing. I think I wrote six chapters before I realized the book was doomed. It was really just a premise, not a story. I'd already screwed it up and painted myself into a corner."

He stayed in that corner for a long time. "I did not write a word for ten years after that," he admits. Unlike most would-be authors who give up, Hammond eventually came back to writing. Inspired by another literary kick -- this time the crime novels of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James Ellroy -- he started penning KOP in 2001. "Crushing rejection," as he calls it, followed. Eventually, though, he placed the manuscript with an agent, and his science-fiction/noir hybrid sold to Tor Books in 2003.

While Vaughn's career blew up almost the instant her first book came out, Hammond's debut had a tough time getting out of the gate. Three and a half excruciating years passed between the signing of his contract and the publication of KOP in 2007. "Why that happened, I still do not know," he says. "Publishers work in mysterious ways, I know. So I waited. I'm generally a pretty low-key person, so I didn't freak out. But it was frustrating. You tell people you have this book deal, and three years later they're wondering, 'Was he making that up?'"

KOP and its 2010 sequel, Ex-KOP, sold well enough for Hammond to earn back his advance, "which is a big thing in the publishing world," he points out. They're both gritty, visceral detective yarns set in the future on a distant planet, one that's an impoverished backwater compared to the rest of the civilized galaxy. Hammond, who'd become an extensive world traveler, drew on his trips to Africa and Southeast Asia while building the world of KOP, and the books' grizzled, disgraced hero, Juno Mozambe, navigates it with an amorphous morality.

Just as slippery was the process of categorizing Hammond's books. Ex-KOP was nominated for a 2010 Colorado Book Award in the admittedly broad category of Genre Fiction; two years later, KOP Killer took home the top prize in Mystery. "I was excited that I won, and I do think that KOP Killer is noir mystery first and science fiction second," Hammond says. "I was pleased that the science-fiction elements weren't held against me. For the awards ceremony in Aspen, I had to do a short, one-minute reading from the book. I told them that the scene I was going to read was the only continuous, one-minute section of the book that had no profanity. It was an exaggeration, but not a big one."

Hammond had another reason to swear: His editor at Tor had left the company, and he found himself orphaned just as KOP Killer needed an extra push. He returned to a book he'd worked on years earlier, then stashed away: Tides of Maritinia. Like his uncle before him, he'd been drawn to writing a novel that mixes spies and science. But Tides, like KOP, is set in a faraway world with a jarring clash of cultures and technologies.

Tides itself wound up being at the business end of a clash of technologies: that of traditional print books versus e-books. Hammond's new publisher, Voyager Impulse, is an experiment in tweaking the synergy between the two, backed by the major house HarperCollins. By releasing the e-book in advance of the print edition, "it gives them the opportunity to see how the e-book does, and to use that to determine the print run, format and marketing of the print edition," Hammond explains. "E-books are relatively cheap to produce, but print books are expensive. The royalty structure is more author-friendly. I feel like it's more of a true partnership. It'll be interesting to see what happens. If it does well, this could be a new model that becomes emulated by other publishing houses."

Hammond doesn't mind being a guinea pig: "I have high hopes that Tides will do well, and of course that's my primary concern. But I also have high hopes that this is a good publishing model. It's a big change; it's exciting. It's fun to be on the cutting edge of things for once. This is science fiction, after all."

And Hammond has a built-in support system. His wife, Angie Hodapp, not only lends her insight into the publishing industry as an employee of Denver's Nelson Literary Agency, but she's one of his critique-mates in a writing group that includes local SF/F authors Jeanne C. Stein, Mario Acevedo, Aaron Michael Ritchey and Travis Heermann. They meet regularly to read each other's works-in-progress, offer suggestions and lend a sympathetic ear.

"I think all writers are trying to make connections," Hammond says. "You're trying to make a connection with your readers, an emotional connection to another human being. Yet the very nature of writing is locking yourself in your room for years at a time. It's a real oxymoron, or catch-22, or whatever you call it." He laughs: "If I were a better writer, I would know the right word."
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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller