Daydreaming as Survival

by G.O. Clark

My poem “Distracted While Gardening” [on sale in the current Asimov’s now] is like a snapshot of my day-to-day routine and randomness of my thought processes. There are 30-year-old grape vines clinging to the carport supports of my mobile home, which I periodically prune, letting my mind wander as I do so. One sunny day while clipping away, I remembered an article posted online about a recently discovered canyon beneath the Antarctic ice, big as the Grand Canyon according to the latest satellite data.

My imagination quickly built upon the simple facts provided and came up with some possibilities of what might be hiding within the canyon’s depths. Alien artifacts (proof of their visitations), followed by advanced technology from our forgotten ancestors were my first considerations. Then the sound of an old biplane passing overhead brought me back to the here and now. My speculations about the future interrupted by a symbol of the past, (biplane crop duster), the pruning shears idle in my hand. Past, present, future nicely overlapping.

Within a couple of weeks, and many revisions, I had a finished poem. Having been published in Asimov’s over the years, I have a pretty good handle on what fits editorially, and off the poem went with electronic ease.

The grape vines, by the way, produced zip that year, and only a few grapes since.

These days I can’t seem to shut out the craziness all around me. The morning news brings the twitter-drone of our president, recurring sectarian violence old as religion itself, and the ruthlessness of various despots both here and abroad. People, who otherwise seem intelligent, ignoring the facts even as they nurse the bullet holes in their own feet. Politicians gone mad, scanty details at eleven.

I was weaned on science fiction movies, TV series like Star Trek, and paperback wonders. The future always held possibilities, if humans could just get their acts together. Like many, I enjoy a well written apocalyptic tale now and again, but recognize fiction for what it is, and don’t consider it self-fulfilling prophesy.

Survival mode is often one of last resort. Though romantic to some, rummaging among the ashes of the past seems a pitiful option compared to the possibility of a positive, progressive future.

My poem was written a couple of years ago, and reflects the state of the world and my life at that time. Little has changed since then, in my opinion, other than some of the players on both sides.

Now in my seventies, I still consider myself a progressive (liberal) and have high hopes for the future generation. They have the correct tools, more advanced than my generation had, and—I believe—the impetus to use them.

I look forward to watching the first humans walk on Mars, on my old flat screen TV before I die, Bradbury’s grinning ghost hovering over my shoulder.

The fact that I have hope for the future doesn’t always reflect in my poetry and short stories. My horror poetry collections, though at times humorous, are dark and blood smeared. My science fiction themed poems often tiptoe through post apocalyptic landscapes, and commune with evil aliens and wound-too-tight robots. Human frailty, technology run amuck, the malleability of time and space, just to name a few, are standard themes in most science fiction and horror fiction, and what I feel comfortable writing about.

The Antarctic canyon of my poem is a natural wonder, worth expanding upon by using the power of my imagination. Physicists turn their abstractions into mathematical equations. Poets turn their daydreams into metaphors and meter. A sense of wonder is the glue that holds my poems and stories together. Without it, the words just pile up like Scrabble pieces abandoned on a forgotten card table.

Perhaps a hundred years from now some future grad student will dissect “Distracted While Gardening,” along with my other poetry. Stranger things have happened. Who among the hundreds of writers and poets from the past might he/she decide had the greatest influence on my work? I have no idea. Personally, I like Dylan Thomas, Donald Hall, William Carlos Williams, and Billy Collins when it comes to mainstream poetry; Bruce Boston, Robert Frazier, and Marge Simon in speculative poetry. These are the poets I often read and reread. There are many others that I enjoy as well, individual poems catching my eye online or between the paper covers of a book. There’s a lot to absorb, the field ever expanding.

One poet, Bruce Boston, has been objectively critiquing my poetry (via emails), for years. He nudged me into the speculative poetry field years ago, and the fact of his casual mentoring would be central to my future grad student’s thesis as he/she faces their dissertation review.

I’ve been writing poetry for forty-plus years now. Speculative poetry for about thirty. My sense of wonder has weathered many changes in life, good and bad. Daydreaming has been a form of survival for me. Of course it didn’t help my grades back in my K–12 days. Still can’t spell so good, or accurately count my toes. I vaguely remember doing better in college, however, trying to make the grade.

With much effort, and strained patience, I did succeed in turning my distractions into publishable work, often wading through a deep pile of rejection slips to the occasional acceptances. The latter added up over time, contributor copies a welcome sight in my otherwise junkmail-filled mailbox.

What appears as my daily self-absorption to some, is actually the writer in me off visiting some planet or picnicking in a graveyard, doing research, daydreaming with intent to entertain.

Serious writers never give up. They ignore their clocks, and only consult their calendars when approaching a deadline.

I’m still wondering what might be hiding under the Antarctic ice, and can’t wait for the first live-stream reports to appear online.

 


G.O. Clark’s writing has been published in Asimov’s, Analog, Space & Time, Daily SF, Jupiter (GB) and many other publications. He’s the author of 13 poetry collections, the most recent, “The Comfort Of Screams,” 2018. His second fiction collection, “Twist & Turns,” came out in 2016. He won the Asimov’s Readers Award for poetry in 2001 and was a Stoker Award finalist in 2011. He’s retired and lives in Davis, CA. He can be found at https://www.facebook.com/gary.o.clark and http://goclarkpoet.weebly.com.

Q&A with Carrie Vaughn

Carrie Vaughn hasn’t explored novella-length stories until recently, and we were lucky enough to publish one of her first experiments with them, “Gremlin,” in our May/June issue [on sale now]. Below, she discusses how the story developed, what projects she’s working on, and more.


Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind “Gremlin”?

CV: I’ve been writing about women aviators, particularly in World War II, for quite a while. I love their stories and that history and bringing it to light, since not a lot of people know about it. Somewhere along the line, I’m not exactly sure when, I got the idea of a helpful gremlin partnering with a WWII fighter pilot. The idea turned into a story when I made it a generational saga—a whole family of women pilots, passing along the legacy from mother to daughter, on into the future.

AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?

CV: It stands alone. The possibilities for exploring this world and the gremlins in more detail seem obvious, but I don’t have plans for more stories right at the moment. Too many other projects are battling for my attention right now.

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

CV: I made my first short story sale to Asimov’s in about 2006 and “Gremlin” will be my sixth story and first novella in the magazine. Before that, I’d been submitting stories since about 1989. Of course I wanted my stories to appear in one of the premier science fiction magazines out there! It took a while to break in, but I’m here now!

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

CV: When I get writers’ block it’s usually because something in the story I’m working on isn’t right. I’ve made a wrong turn, or I haven’t thought things out well enough. I’ll usually take a break and work on something else for a while, to let my subconscious noodle with the problem. Or I’ll back up, try to find the spot in the manuscript where the story went off track, and then outline and brainstorm until I figure out what the right track is.

AE: What inspired you to start writing?

CV: I’ve always written. I was lucky to have teachers who assigned a lot of creative writing lessons and I always loved them, and was good at them when I wasn’t very good at a lot of other things. I kept on with it throughout school until there wasn’t really anything else I wanted to do.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

VG: My most recent novels are a set of post-apocalyptic murder mysteries, Bannerless and The Wild Dead. Currently, I’m bouncing around between a lot of other projects. As you can see with “Gremlin,” I’ve been dabbling a lot with novellas, which is a length I haven’t done very much with until recently but I’m now having a good time exploring what I can do with them.

AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?

CV: I think I usually answer this with Bujold’s Vorkosigan universe, but specifically the nice parts, because it’s got everything I love about space opera and the people generally seem nice. On the fantasy side, I’d like to live in Robin McKinley’s Damar, because of the horses.

AE: What are you reading right now?

CV: I’m on a Robin Hood kick, and I’m basically binge-reading a bunch of Robin Hood novels from the last 25 years or so. It’s interesting to see what parts of the mythology make it into all the stories, and what parts authors take liberties with.

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?

CV: The usual: write a lot, read a lot. But more than that, work on improving. When you read, analyze what you read—why do you like something, why do you not like something? Apply that to your own work. Always be learning.

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?

CV: I did the usual round of office jobs, and if a higher-than-average number of my main characters are accountants it’s probably due to the eight years I spent as an administrative assistant at a small CPA firm. That stuff just stays with you. But my favorite day job, and the one I sometimes miss, is a bookseller at an independent bookstore, which I did for three years right out of college. There’s just something wonderful about spending every day surrounded by books and getting the right books into people’s hands. Plus, I learned a ton about the publishing and bookselling business, which helped immensely when I started writing and publishing my own novels.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

CV: I have a blog: https://carriev.wordpress.com/; My website is http://www.carrievaughn.com, and I’m on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/carrie.vaughn


Carrie Vaughn’s latest novels include the post-apocalyptic murder mystery, Bannerless, winner of the Philip K. Dick Award, and its sequel, The Wild Dead. She is the author of the New York Times bestselling series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty, and several other contemporary fantasy and young adult novels. Carrie has also written about eighty short stories, two of which have been finalists for the Hugo Award. She is a contributor to the Wild Cards series of shared world superhero books edited by George R.R. Martin. Visit her at http://www.carrievaughn.com.

The Future Is for Regular Folks

by Peter Wood

“Never the Twain Shall Meet,” my story in this month’s Asimov’s [on sale now], is about many things speculative. It also delves into North Carolina pork barbecue and college sports. Why did I waste time on such minutia?

Because North Carolina was built on a firm foundation of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball and the feud between eastern- and western-style barbecue sauces. And, no mere technological breakthroughs—sentient robots or cloning or matter transportation—is going to change that.

People are still people and technological change doesn’t mean everything changes.

There’s an exchange in Star Trek Four: The Voyage Home that sums up what separates good science fiction from bad science fiction.

Dr. Gillian Taylor: Don’t tell me, you’re from outer space.

Captain Kirk: No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space . . .

Kirk is a regular guy. He cracks jokes. He plays poker or at least knows the game. He likes a good chess match with Mr. Spock. He enjoys literature and history. Most of us would love to have a cup of coffee with James Tiberius Kirk.

Science fiction needs to be grounded. We need fantastic settings and ideas, but good science fiction is about people and the reader has to be able to relate to the characters.

Continue reading “The Future Is for Regular Folks”

Q&A with Rammel Chan

Rammel Chan considers his short story in our March/April issue [on sale now] his first “big break” in his writing career. He’s already experienced that with his primary gig, acting, which he discusses below, in addition to his writing process, inspirations, and much more.

Don’t miss our podcast of “Tourists“—available for free and narrated by Rammel Chan!


Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

RC: In 2017, around the holidays, I was flown to Paris for a small TV job. I had to make the trip three times over the course of a month. I would fly out of Chicago on a Thursday, arrive on a Friday, stay for two days, work Monday and then fly out again Tuesday. I felt very lucky; who wouldn’t want a free trip to Paris to appear on TV? But for some reason, perhaps pushed by the anxiety of having to work quickly with strangers, suffering from near constant jet-lag, and only speaking about seven words of French, I found myself becoming a little crazy. I became deathly paranoid that the Parisians could tell I was a tourist.

I knew I was being stupid. Just about everyone in Paris is a tourist. But for some reason I didn’t want them to know. I tried to blend in as best as I could, to become invisible. I spoke none of my bad French to anyone. I didn’t even speak English. I said nothing. Which I think only made me stick out more. I imagined the French waiters and shopkeepers pointing at me with their perfect French faces and whispering to each other, “He’s an unfriendly tourist, isn’t he?”

Not until the very last night, Christmas Eve’s eve, did I finally make a choice to connect with some people: my American and French coworkers. We sat in the hotel lobby, ordered pizza (like good Americans), drank lots and lots of wine, and talked of all the wonderful things we saw in this terribly wonderful city. And we talked about home. The hotel staff, knowing we all worked in TV, took us into the back and gave us shots of a mean-looking coffee tequila in the kitchen. I laughed a great deal and made some nice friends. It was a very special night.

Continue reading “Q&A with Rammel Chan”

Finding My Place in the Universe

by Zhao Haihong

I still remember the moment I was inspired to be a writer. I was twelve at that time, a sixth-grade primary school student.

When I came across the line in Gardener by Tagore, “Who are you, reader, reading my poems a hundred years hence,” I was deeply touched by the moment of conversation built between a past poet and a little girl. That moment was real and that is the moment Tagore already foretold. The simple line builds a bridge between different time spaces, like a time machine might do. At one side, the confident poet called for his future readers; at another, a girl who receives the precious information and decides her future.

 


Here in this story, I looked back at my writing career and finally figured out why I could keep writing SF for twenty years.


 

I became a devoted reader when I was six, but my reading mainly related to literature as a whole, the canon, as Harold Bloom called it, and also some popular literature. In middle school, I started my writing—poems, kung-fu stories, historical romances, and science fiction. I just wrote them for fun. Among them, a story “Great Rift” (about how an alien watchman on Earth uses a video camera to record the Earth’s history in a fast mode) was published in the fanzine of a student club when I was 16. And two years later, I sent it to Science Fiction World, the most important and, for a long time, the only science fiction magazine in China. It was published in February 1996, when I was a freshman. Continue reading “Finding My Place in the Universe”

Q&A with Lawrence Watt-Evans

It may have taken thirty years, but we’re thrilled to publish the intended follow-up to “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers,” which was featured in the July 1987 issue of Asimov’s. Below, author Lawrence Watt-Evans describes its journey to our pages as well as his own within the writing profession.


Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

LWE: The story behind the story: Back in 1987 I made my first sale to a major science fiction magazine, when Asimov’s bought “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers.” I was thrilled, and wanted to find a way to exploit this opening.

It immediately occurred to me that I could use Harry’s as the setting for other stories. I came up with several premises, and started writing five of them. The most ambitious was called “How I Found Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers,” and it was intended as a pretty direct follow-up.

But the only one I finished in anything like a reasonable time frame was “A Flying Saucer with Minnesota Plates.”

But then, early in 2018, Warner Brothers optioned a script based on “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers,” and my interest was suddenly renewed. This time I did complete “How I Found Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers.” Naturally, I sent it to the same place I’d sent the first two, and they bought it—my first sale to Asimov’s in over twenty years. Also my first submission there in over twenty years.

Continue reading “Q&A with Lawrence Watt-Evans”

Two Days and Eighteen Songs

by Michael Swanwick

Emily Hockaday [Asimov’s Associate Editor] asked me if I would write a guest blog post for From Earth to the Stars about how I came to write my latest story for Asimov’s Science Fiction.

Um . . . okay.

At the risk of sounding reductionist, it took eighteen songs and two days to write “Eighteen Songs by Debussy.” Here, as best as I can reconstruct things, is what went into the creation of that story.

First Movement

Of Debussy’s songs I know almost nothing. Only that they are lush, moving, romantic, tragic, erotic, and capable of touching the spirit as well as the body. Also that, when well performed, they are worth paying money to hear.

Thus it was that I found myself at the Academy of Vocal Arts, one of Philadelphia’s cultural treasures, listening to Lyric Fest’s recital of the songs that inspired my story.

Continue reading “Two Days and Eighteen Songs”