Daniel Abraham, 51, is nothing if not prolific. Chatting one morning from his home in Albuquerque, N.Mex., via Zoom, he’s already checked off breakfast with the kid, responded to emails, and written 500 words.
Abraham’s 15-year writing career spans science fiction and fantasy, and he’s established himself as a genre workhorse with a résumé that impresses. He’s written four series under three pen names, adapted a comic book, and done a Star Wars one-off, and he boasts writing and producing credits on the six-season TV adaptation of his bestselling space opera, the Expanse series (written under the pen name James S.A. Corey, with coauthor Ty Franck). He’s a bestseller—Orbit, which publishes the Expanse, says the series has sold more than four million copies to date—who’s also won a Locus for Best Novel (for 2014’s Abandon’s Gate) and a Hugo (last year for the Expanse).
His final entry in the nine-book Expanse series, Leviathan Falls, is publishing in late November. Then, in February 2022, Orbit will release Age of Ash, the first title in his Kithamar trilogy, an epic fantasy.
“I’m working a lot,” Abraham says, scratching the ears of his dog, a husky–border collie mix. “Sometimes on three books at once.” It’s a welcome burden for a writer who once paid his bills working IT jobs.
Growing up in Albuquerque—with its surreal landscape—Abraham fell early into the world of sci-fi and fantasy, though he read broadly. “New Mexico is weird,” he says. “I live in a city that’s older than my country, and as a white person, I’m in the minority. We have crushing poverty and this rich cultural history that informs everything. It’s definitely affected how I see the world.”
Raised in the 1970s by an architect mom and stay-at-home rocker dad, Abraham says he was “let loose on the city with a freedom we don’t have now.” He was always out exploring, but at home “my dad read to me all through my childhood. Nontranslated works in Spanish, Dorothy Sayers, Ursula LeGuin, a lot of Arthur Clarke. The first sci-fi I remember reading was [Clarke’s 1952 novel] Islands in the Sky, and it blew my mind open.”
A short story assignment in middle school cemented his career path. “I did this Walter Mitty pastiche,” he says. “My dad praised me, and your dad praising you sticks with you forever.”
Abraham has always looked at writing as both a craft and a business, thanks in part to early interactions with working writers in the Albuquerque literary scene like Stephen Donaldson, Tony Hillerman, and Fred Saberhagen (author of the Books of Swords series).
“There was this high school mentorship program where if there was something you wanted to do with your life, you could go have a professional disabuse you of that,” Abraham recalls with a raised brow. “I got an apprenticeship at the local radio station and it was terrible. My second choice was writing, and Fred became my mentor. I was doing mostly sci-fi and fantasy by then, slipstream. I’d go to Fred’s house on Saturdays and show him what I was working on.”
Having witnessed the feast and famine nature of publishing through his mentors’ experiences, Abraham came up with a strategy. “My plan was to never rely on writing for money, because it’s a terrible way to pay bills,” he says. “It’s gambling. So I spent 10 miserable years doing frontline tech support.”
A decade after graduating from the University of New Mexico, with several unpublished novels under his belt, Abraham considered becoming a physician’s assistant—“upgrading the kind of tech support I did from computers to bodies,” as he puts it. But a stint at the Clarion West workshop (a long-running six-week program for those in the SF/fantasy space) inspired his first fantasy series, the Long Price quartet. The books grapple with what the epic fantasy is, he explains, and how leaps in technology have shaped human existence.
“I’ve gone from floppy disks to cloud technology in the course of my lifetime,” Abraham says. “Getting to write a story that was about that kind of epic scope made it interesting.”
The first book in the series, 2006’s A Shadow in Summer, debuted a month before Abraham’s daughter Scarlet was born. “I stayed home, raised the kid, and wrote books, much in my father’s footsteps,” he says. “It worked well for me, and hopefully for the kid.” He notes that his wife’s career as an occupational therapist sustained the family financially (and provided health insurance). “Kids are a great motivator, and a good marker. Time speeds up, but it also slows down. I can mark my career by how old she was when something happened.”
While writing the first quartet, Abraham sold the urban fantasy quintet Black Sun’s Daughter to Pocket, under the pen name M.L.M. Hanover. And quickly, he settled into the reality of juggling multiple projects at once. “Two or three books a year was pretty normal for me,” he says. “I always saw it as two different games: the one where you make books as beautiful objects and the game of selling them on the market, gambling. I went into publishing thinking, ‘Well, here’s my first five pseudonyms, each a different brand. If one doesn’t stick, on to the next.’ ”
After wrapping the Black Sun series in 2013, he did a collaboration with former Clarion West teacher George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois on the novel Hunter’s Run, then landed a gig adapting Martin’s Game of Thrones into graphic novels.
The learning curve was steep, but the graphic novel series proved excellent training for the collaboration that followed—one that started as a role-playing game session with pal (and former Martin assistant) Ty Franck. What began as two friends fooling around evolved into a writing partnership that produced the Expanse series. In addition to the TV adaptation and all those copies sold, the series has spawned several novellas, a board game, and its own role-playing game.
“Everything I’ve done with a kind of mercenary view to market has failed in publishing,” Abraham says. “Anything that has succeeded is something I did for fun.”
In 2010, Abraham and Franck sold the first three books in the series to Orbit, which published them at the same time as Abraham’s solo five-book epic fantasy series Dagger and the Coin. The duo were on Expanse book five, Nemesis Games, when SyFy optioned the books for screen adaptation.
The TV series ran on Syfy for three seasons, then landed on Amazon Prime for another three. That Franck and Abraham were brought on as writers for the show was especially nice. “When the team came on, we asked them if we could be part of the writers’ room, and they said, ‘Sure,’ ” Abraham recounts. “We didn’t understand how unusual that is. It was amazing. We have learned so much. And the health insurance is excellent.”
While wrapping up the TV show—the sixth and final season is set to air in December—Abraham sold his Kithamar trilogy, which he says came about because he wanted “a new challenge.”
Next up? Another space opera trilogy with Franck, and more explorations in Hollywood because, as Abraham notes, “the union health insurance is just really good.”
Looking back on all he’s achieved so far, Abraham says it’s “weird.” He pauses. “The chances of my dying of old age without ever doing tech support again are getting better and better.”
Sona Charaipotra is a journalist and the cofounder of book packager Cake Literary, the coauthor of the Tiny Pretty Things series, and author of Symptoms of a Heartbreak.