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The magic of fantasy

Kula author, who earned acclaim for science-fiction work, starts next adventure with new fantasy novel

June 26, 2011
By ILIMA LOOMIS - Staff Writer ( , The Maui News

Sixteen years after her first novel, "The Bohr Maker," won the prestigious science-fiction Locus award, author and Kula resident Linda Nagata has a new novel and a new adventure.

Nagata, who spent years writing science fiction and produced six novels with "traditional" book publishers in the 1990s, has returned to writing with "The Dread Hammer," a fantasy novel she chose to self-publish under her own imprint, Mythic Island Press.

"I wanted to go in a different direction," she said.

Article Photos

Kula resident Linda Nagata, who won the science-fiction Locus award, recently released her latest novel, a fantasy piece titled “The Dread Hammer.”

Photo courtesy of LINDA NAGATA

Nagata made a name for herself writing "hard" science fiction, meaning her novels had to respect the physical laws of science. That may have won her a following among fans of the genre, but it also involved an exhausting amount of research, she said.

"In fantasy, it's just a completely different way of developing the story," she said. "I don't have to be concerned if something works in the real world - it's just magic."

To help distinguish current projects from her earlier science fiction work, Nagata is using the pen name Trey Shiels for "The Dread Hammer" and subsequent fantasy novels.

The book revolves around a mysterious half-human warrior named Smoke, who is surprised to find himself taking a break from slaughtering villagers to fall in love with a young woman. But as much as he wants to leave behind his old life of violence to take care of her and their young family, he finds his supernatural skills as a killer are still in demand.

The story has a "humorous edge," Nagata says, as Smoke tries to find an awkward balance between his violent instincts and his unfamiliar feelings of romantic love.

Nagata said she started writing just after college.

"I decided instead of going into biology, which was my degree, I'd just become a writer," she said with a laugh.

It wasn't an easy path. Nagata worked at her writing for 10 years before selling her first short story. She sold a few more stories before her first novel, "The Bohr Maker," was published by Bantam in 1995. She sold three more novels to Bantam before moving to popular sci-fi publisher Tor.

Her 2000 novella, "Goddesses," published on the website, became the first online fiction to win the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award.

But while her novels received positive reviews and were admired by her peers -acclaimed British sci-fi author Alastair Reynolds recently wrote that Nagata's 1998 novel, "Vast," had "literally haunted (his) dreams" and influenced some of his own books - sales were slow. Nagata said she grew disheartened as she watched her publishers doing less and less to promote her work, and felt "helpless" to support her own books.

Eventually, she said, she left writing for financial reasons and became a web programmer, a job she held for nine years. After losing that job in the recession, Nagata returned to writing, bringing her career full circle.

"It was just a good time in life for me to try to change gears and get back to what I used to really enjoy," she said.

Nagata said she started "The Dread Hammer" as a writing exercise, after reading a suggestion by another author not to approach a new novel as if it was a big "event," with the pressure to say something new or redefine its genre, but to write it fast, without taking the time for self-doubt.

"The idea is not to pay attention to the internal editors during the first draft," she said.

Nagata finished her first draft in just two months -record time for an author accustomed to laboring over every scientific detail of her stories.

"Definitely there was revision afterward, but it was very exciting to be able to produce a new work in that short a time," she said.

This time around, Nagata said she didn't even consider a traditional publisher for "The Dread Hammer." In addition to being discouraged by her prior experiences, Nagata said, she opted for self-publishing so she could have more control over the creative process of her book.

She commissioned cover art for the book from local artist Sarah Adams.

After getting back the rights to her earlier novels, Nagata has also republished them as e-books.

Self-publishing has been a hot topic in the publishing industry, as breakout authors like Amanda Hocking have made millions selling their e-books on, and even some established writers have bypassed traditional publishing houses to sell books directly to readers.

But it still can be a gamble, with very few authors achieving the same kind of success as the industry's new stars.

Nagata said she didn't regret the decision.

"It's been a lot of fun - very challenging, and it's required me to learn a lot of new skills," she said. "I'm not making a lot of money so far, but I just feel if I keep at it for a while, things could really start happening."

"The Dread Hammer" is available as an e-book for $2.99 or as a paperback for $10.99 from or, and as a paperback for $15.95 at Powell's Books in Portland, Ore.

Nagata is available to speak to book clubs. For contact information, visit

* Ilima Loomis can be reached at



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