The questions I never want to hear again: what are your influences? Where do your ideas come from?
I'm staying at a horror hotel here in Cleveland tonight while attending an ad writing conference. Oh, it's not a horror hotel on purpose. The first sign of trouble was when I pulled up to the front of the hotel to find six valets ready to whisk away the car. Who needs six valets? When I walked into the polished reception area I saw nearly a dozen people hanging out behind the front desk, many of them staring intently at the screens in front of them while just four or five guests seemed to be taking an awfully long time to get checked in.
I glanced at the sitting area near the front desk and realized the artfully arranged stack of books wasn't actual books but just replicas of books all glued together in a stack. They were just decorations. Like someone's idea of what would be on the table at a fancy hotel. When I finally made it to one of the dozen people behind the front desk, I was told I couldn't charge my corporate card, which I'd entered online, because the system hadn't retained the number, and they couldn't give me my key because they had to "go upstairs to make it," as if they were going up to forge it in Mount Doom.
I knew, then, exactly what I was getting myself into. I burst out laughing.
I had entered hotel hell.
The weirdness piled up. I waited twenty minutes for a key they never showed up, and used that time to explore my creepy hotel room, which had an empty glass bottle that said "drink me," a bizarre pencil-sharpener-looking decoration sitting alone on a shelf that turned out to be a bookend, of all things, and three eerie paintings of nude, headless women with waves of blood emanating from their creepy headless bodies. One of them was right next to the toilet, so you could watch these blood beads of sweat rolling down a disembodied naked back while you took a crap. It was the choice of art, even more than the dark colors, the too-tall sinks, the red plush chair with the footrest, and the halls that looked like something out of a Kubrick film, that made me realize this was likely the pet project of some rich privileged guy who had never run a hotel before. It was like a hotel built for the protagonist of American Psycho. It was the most incredibly out of touch hotel to have adjacent a convention center that I've ever seen. Contrary to popular belief, not all business people are dudes from American Psycho.
But the absurdity of it was so grand it made me laugh. I noticed all the weird little details. I delighted in the absurd horror of it. I returned to my room after dinner to find the door ajar and nothing stolen, per se, but the contents of the mini bar had been totally removed. All the drinks, the snacks, everything, like someone downstairs had suddenly realized that they hadn't put any prices on anything. The poor bellhop had the guts to ask me what I thought of the hotel "so far." And I haven't even told you about the elevators.
The truth is that I will remember this hotel experience more than any other generic hotel experience because it forced my brain into the surreal dream like state where everything becomes new again. We run through the routines of our lives so often that the brain often runs on auto pilot. Yes, I've been to a hotel a million times, swipe the key, give me the card, say the little pleasantries, I retire. That's it. That's the end of the story.
But there was that thrilling moment when the hotel desk clerk said, "I'm going to go upstairs and have this key made for you," and then discretely led me over to the bellhop and showed him the room number so he could escort me up that my brain woke up. It said, "Oh, this is something different. I need to pay attention." And suddenly I entered a heightened state of awareness.
This is pretty basic survival 101 stuff, and I understand why it happens. We don't need to be hyper aware of everything all the time. We move through much of our lives, especially as we get older, incredibly quickly. Hours bleed into days bleed into weeks bleed into seasons, and suddenly summer is over and we wonder where the time went. As children, time feels much slower because everything we experience is new. Our brains are constantly working to absorb and categorize new information. As adults, there is less and less new information, and with less new information to take in, the brain doesn't have to work as hard. Time flies by.
When we speak about creativity, or coming up with creative ideas, I often think of it like I'm trying to force myself into this state of increased awareness. I'm trying to wake myself up from the routine, the mundane, the "yeah, I've seen that all before." I want to force my brain out of its comfortable notion of what the world is and explore what it could be.
What if nothing is at all what we expect it to be? What if cats gave birth to rats and we used viruses to power cars, and what if a "family" had a minimum of six spouses and what if it was a grave crime to touch someone without consent?
I'll hear folks, often, saying they have an inherent resistance to some of the ideas in my books. Like, bug magic? Vegetarian cannibals? Parallel universes in an epic fantasy? But I've found that much of that resistance is the simple resistance we encounter when we haven't seen a thing before. When we have gone so long seeing particular types of technologies (warp drive! Teleporter!) that we accept them whole cloth, however impractical, because they are familiar, then it seems odd to point and say that merely being unfamiliar makes something less plausible. Funny enough, it is the unfamiliar, even in science fiction and fantasy novels, that gives us greatest pause, even when we say that's what we really want. Our minds have a resistance to it, a moment of pushback. "But wait! I don't have a box for this! It's a new thing! It can't be real!" We wake up. We interrogate. We fear.
Yet this is what I do all day as both a novelist and an ad copywriter - I look for ways to bust down preconceptions. To cut through noise. To disturb routines just a little bit so that people look at the world in new ways. Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes horrifying. Sometimes delightful.
When I look out at the world, I'm looking for ideas that disturb, delight, amuse. And I bring all those back with me and recombine them into something else. That's why asking what my influences are, or where my ideas come from, is such a meaningless question. Where does thought come from?
It all comes from the same place: it comes from the weird hotel, the out of place object, the ill-timed phone call, the story of a grandmother's war time exploits, the canary that ended up in the baked beans and made you wonder... holy hell how did that happen? It's about constantly working to make sense of the world, even and especially when it is absurd.
About Kameron Hurley
Kameron Hurley is the author of The Mirror Empire, as well as the award-winning God's War Trilogy, comprising the books God's War, Infidel, and Rapture. She has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Hurley has also been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award, BFS Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Year's Best SF, EscapePod, The Lowest Heaven, and the upcoming Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.