I want to personally thank Matt @ The Broken Binding for allowing me the opportunity to interview one of my favs in the sci-fi genre. Also, big shoutout to Essa on Nophek Gloss (The Graven #1) being TBB’s Book of the Month for November.
Purchase your very own signed bookplate edition @ The Broken Binding. Use code FANFI to get an additional 5% off your entire purchase! https://www.thebrokenbinding.co.uk/product-page/nophek-gloss-essa-hansen
Without further ado, why don’t you join me in finding out a little bit more about Essa.
1. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’ve been a reader and writer of science fiction and fantasy since as far back as I can recall. I have too little time and too many interests, including many of the fantasy hobbies: swordsmanship, horseback riding, falconry, archery, herbalism, sewing, silversmithing, leathercrafting, and whatever other opportunities arise! I’ve been lucky to live in gorgeous National Park settings in California and British Columbia, and I’m as happy outdoors hiking and camping as I am on the couch with a book, show, or video game.
Nophek Gloss was my debut science fiction novel, first in a trilogy, released November 2020 from Orbit Books, with the sequel coming February 1st, 2022.
2. What is your main gig outside of writing?
I’m a Sound Designer for science fiction and fantasy feature films, which means I help coordinate the sound effects team, establish the audio aesthetic of the movie, and create unique sounds such as spaceship engines, mythic creatures, aliens, technology, superpowers, and magic. I’ve worked on ten Marvel Cinematic Universe films as well as Disney, Pixar, and Skydance animations, among others. Between my day job, writing, and reading/watching/playing, I seem to spend most of my time in speculative worlds.
3. When did you start writing seriously, and what motivated you to write a novel?
I’m told I was writing as soon as I was physically able…small notes at first, building up to complete stories. I was always writing for my own enjoyment, without needing to share or publish, so I could afford to be experimental, jump between projects, and spend time worldbuilding. I only started writing “seriously”—with an aim toward publication—in the past 5 years or so. Compared to writing for oneself, it proved a great new challenge to sculpt something that had marketable appeal and higher rigor of craft.
4. Who are your biggest writing influences?
For me, “what” is an easier question than “who.” I’ve mostly lived in remote areas with no bookstore and a limited library, and never read enough of any one author to be able to say they deeply influenced my own creativity or craft. Aside from that, I always try to actively find new ground and forge off-trail when I can…so the creatives who have inspired me are usually those who have done the same, taking risks and stretching the imagination or turning an idea upside-down.
I’m influenced by observing nature, by obscure or cutting edge science, by metaphysics and philosophy. For inspiration, I hoard bits of idea from all different mediums and genres, as well as nonfiction and personal experience, and mine these out-of-context fragments and flavors to graft onto my own stories. Some serve merely as launching points to go in a totally different “what if” direction.
5. Are you a gardener or an architect; or are you perhaps a hybrid?
I’m definitely a hybrid, though in my early writing days I skewed toward gardener. The tight schedules of trade publishing has pushed me more into architect habits. I create the large scale design and internal structure (plotting and outlining the big arcs, themes, tentpole scenes, and through-logic), then garden within those walls (discovery-writing the scenes and details of the story).
6. Tell me about the inspiration behind The Graven.
It built up sequentially starting from my design of a multiverse of nested bubble universes with varying internal physics—essentially a foam structure extrapolated to galactic scale and beyond. Technology and biology transforming between universes opens up interesting implications for economy, exploration, and exploitation. I love big scope questions like this and was keen to explore the realities and philosophies of a huge world in which diversity and transformation is the norm.
Next came the idea of a ship that could make a protective universe of its own, able to traverse hostile universes within the safety of its own world. Then, a main character whose backstory brought up a range of economic and ethical themes to explore. As I wrote my way into the subsequent books, I’ve been able to explore metaphysical concepts and surreal dimensions interacting with physical reality—one of my favorite things, which seems to sneak itself somehow into whatever I write.
7. What is Nophek Gloss about and just who is Caiden?
Nophek Gloss combines a not-as-straightforward-as-it-seems revenge story with a bildungsroman centering personal growth and complex morality. Caiden was raised with a singular function and impoverished imagination on an isolated world that is destroyed for economic gain. He’s tossed into a gigantic, diverse, bewildering adult multiverse he had no idea existed. He is a wronged survivor struggling with c-PTSD, identity, and perspective, willing to harm and reshape himself to get justice against an enemy too vast and clandestine to confront. He heads on this journey with the help of a found family of misfit aliens and a unique starship with a soul and universe of its own.
8. Can you talk a bit about your approach to description in Nophek Gloss and how it may differ from what readers are generally used to.
I have various hypersensitivities and a very sensory imagination—hyperphantasia—which renders scenes vividly in my mind, paired with synesthesia, which pervades my writing with the concept that sensory domains aren’t as separate or dissimilar as we think. It took me a long time to work out all the ways in which my experience of the sensory world was different than what is neurotypical, but now I see how it’s translated into prose that is fresh and a bit unexpected. I reach for unusual verbs, archaic vocabulary, sideways metaphors, and include all the senses.
My day job in theatrical sound also makes my descriptions lush and dynamic, full of the same aspects I focus on in film: scope, space, movement, material, lighting, and so on. This makes for an immersive read that will paint a clear experience for visual readers but may slow down readers who enjoy a leaner read.
9. What are some takeaways you hope readers glean from Nophek and beyond?
There are small life lesson insights, reflections, and affirmations given to Caiden by his chosen family, which I’m told by readers are the very things they themselves needed to hear. Sometimes it’s just a single line, but I hope these ideas spark deeper thinking.
I hope this trilogy gives readers a feeling that, no matter who we are or wish to be or what we’ve been through, we can find support and a space where we feel we belong. And I hope it gives readers a sense of wonder; that the world might be grander than we can perceive and bigger than science can describe to us. Perhaps too large for the human mind to navigate all at once—but we can grow into it, and ourselves, over time.
10. What can we expect going into Book 2, Azura Ghost?
A friend of Caiden’s who he thought was dead emerges as a secondary point-of-view character with an alien found family of her own. In trying to rescue her from the enemy’s side, Caiden is dragged into a budding multiversal war, facing new alliances and old betrayals. Readers will finally learn the true nature of the Azura, see the secret of Caiden’s origin, get to know the Dynast governing faction of Unity, the central universe, while getting a peek at the ancient Graven civilization that will be expanded on in Book 3. Azura Ghost also explores metaphysical and spiritual dimensions interacting with the physical, as well as detached consciousness, the substrate of reality, and remote embodiment. Spirits, vessels, possession, transmutation, multidimensionality—it starts to get weird!
11. Have you read anything recently that you would recommend?
My last read was The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean, a contemporary fantasy coming out in August 2022 from Tor Books in the US and a month or so later in the UK from Harper Voyager. It explores a species that looks and acts human but consume books like a food, absorbing the knowledge within. Two timelines in wonderfully moody British settings are carefully interwoven in a simmering, thriller-paced story about what we’ll do for love and how love can be a monstrous thing. It’s a complex look at grey morality, the tragedy in fairytales, tradition, control, motherhood, trauma, and a favorite theme of mine that is so sad and compelling: the deep damage of impoverished imagination.
About the Author
Essa Hansen grew up in beautifully wild areas of California, from the coastal foothills to the Sierra Nevada mountains around Yosemite, before migrating north to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. She has ranched bison and sheep, trained horses, practiced Japanese swordsmanship, and is a licensed falconer. She lives with her cat in the San Francisco Bay Area.
As a sound designer for SF and fantasy films, her credits can be found on IMDB.