How do writers create other worlds? And are those worlds just our world in disguise? Joe Hill, N.K. Jemisin, Sean Murphy, V.E. Schwab, and Chuck Wendig share their secrets.

Joe Hill

Joe Hill, whose father is Stephen King, has published a string of successful novels; in June, AMC will adapt a series based on his novel NOS4A2. He talked about his forthcoming collection of stories, Full Throttle, due in October.

Can a story collection build a cohesive and enveloping world the way a novel can?

One of the writers that I’ve read and been fascinated with and learned a lot from is Bernard Malamud. He thought his collections should be cohesive. There should be a sense of progression. The stories together are somehow taking a collective picture of a world. A book of short stories is in some ways more revealing about an author than a novel because a short story tells you more where an author’s enthusiasm is, where they live most of the time.

What’s the relationship between fiction and real life?

It can be very dramatically satisfying when our hero hurts someone in an act of tremendous selfishness, but we keep reading and caring about them. Who hasn’t said the wrong thing? Who hasn’t been bad in their life? We also read fiction almost as a kind of role-playing, to imagine ourselves in scenarios we don’t have to experience.

Favorite books as a teen: The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub and It were two books I read where I found them completely irresistible. They consumed all my waking thoughts. —Alex Green

“The Magic of World Building: Marissa Meyer, Marie Lu, N.K. Jemisin, Joe Hill” 12:45–1:45 p.m. // Room 1E14

N.K. Jemison

Jemisin’s Hugo-winning Broken Earth trilogy is a saga of destruction and renewal in a world in which the power of the Earth can be weaponized.

How did you create the world of the Broken Earth trilogy?

I had a dream about a woman walking toward me with this furious look on her face, and with a mountain floating behind her. I woke up in a fever of wanting to know: why is this woman mad at me? Why is she angry enough to throw a mountain? By the way, how is she making a mountain float? I was always interested in seismology and volcanoes, but the books came together once I had that character, and once I needed to know her story.

How important to you are creating parallels between your world and the real one?

A lot of people out there really want fantasy to have clearly established, firm rules that make it easy to turn it into a D&D campaign, basically, and I don’t have any patience for that. I wanted to just kind of say, “All right, we’ve got this futuristic science that obviously doesn’t exist in our world. It’s based on a sense that we don’t have.”

“The Magic of World Building: Marissa Meyer, Marie Lu, N.K. Jemisin, Joe Hill” 12:45–1:45 p.m. // Room 1E14

“A Mashup of Time, Space, and Media: N.K. Jemisin and Rebecca Roanhorse on Creating and Adapting Speculative Fiction” 2:15–2:50 p.m. // Downtown Stage

Favorite Book as a Kid: Ariel by Steven Boyett.

Favorite Word: I like them all at varying times.

Sean Murphy

Batman: White Night turned Gotham City upside down, with the Joker in City Hall and Batman an incarcerated criminal. In Curse of the White Knight, the first installment of Murphy’s upcoming series, Batman begins to face the system rot that was awakened while the Joker was in power.

How would you describe your vision of Gotham?

Brick, wrought iron, and fog. I referenced old photos of London, Chicago, and New York because I really wanted it to feel old school, or even ancient.

What gave you the idea for a criminal who exposes corruption?

I thought it would be interesting to see Joker become the king of spin—attacking Batman without actually breaking the law. DC Comics said that this book wouldn’t have worked five years ago, and that no one would ever believe Joker could convince people to elect him into office. But these days—in the age of outrage with modern politics, news outlets, and social media—things are different.

“DC & DC Black Label” 11:15–noon // Room 1E16

V.E. Schwab

Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy follows adventures and intrigue among four parallel Londons. A new graphic novel series set in the same world begins this fall with The Steel Prince.

In the world of the Shades of Magic series, magic must be harnessed because the characters are weak without it. Do you mean for the book to resonate with people who feel powerless?

Absolutely. So much of the series is about centering people who aren’t usually at the center of narratives. A Conjuring of Light starts, and you think, okay, Kell’s going to be like our Frodo, our lone hero, and of course that’s not the case. This is a series that only works because of how characters are intertwined and depend on each other.

Why did you set the series in London?

I wanted to build multiple iterations of the same world that had different relationships to magic, and needed to pick a place that had a familiar geographic setup so the reader can picture it. Part of it is that I’m half English, and every time I go to London I experience this strange phenomenon of turning down a street and imagining a hundred years falling away. It’s a city where it’s very easy to believe in magic.

Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig is the author of the bestselling Star Wars Aftermath trilogy, the Miriam Black series, and more. His latest book, Wanderers, is an apocalypse-survival epic set in a frighteningly familiar America.

Is the process different for creating your own world versus contributing to an existing fictional universe, as you did with Star Wars?

At the end of the day Star Wars is not even something you would call science fiction, it’s like a fantasy kingdom. Wanderers is set here in America, and it’s about our peculiar place in the world right now. Everything I created is based on real stuff—at the same time, it’s fantasy in the way that all fiction has at its core a fantasy, whether it’s nightmarish or wish fulfillment. There’s certainly horror at the core of this.

Wanderers is driven by a predictive AI program.

There are fictional examples like Minority Report, but predictive models are huge right now, and they’re getting better. In the book, there’s a machine designed to find the problems, but it’s not necessarily designed to tell you what they are or how to respond to them. I wanted ambiguity around what this thing is telling us and why.

Favorite books as a kid: Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain.

Favorite books as a teen: Swan Song by Robert McCammon.

Favorite word: Sesquipedalian, because it means itself.

“How Our Present Impacts Today’s Science Fiction”: Noon–12:40 p.m. // Choice Stage