Q&A with Zack Be

Not too long after his return to writing, Zack Be struck gold with “True Jing,” which we were lucky to publish in the our current issue [on sale now]. Zack spoke with us about the story’s origins as well as his interests in music, transhumanism, and therapeutic counseling.


 

Asimov’s Editor: Before we get into the questions, Zack, we want to say how exciting it is to be your first professional sale! How long have you been submitting?

ZB: Thanks! “Excitement” only begins to describe how it feels for me to call Asimov’s the home of my first professional sale. There may or may not have been a few joyous leaps around my bedroom when I got the email from Sheila Williams expressing her interest in buying “True Jing.” I’m deeply honored by the sale. I’ve been reading the magazine off and on since middle school. My mom bought me an issue right off the newsstand (remember those?) because I had expressed interest in the cover art. Even though it wasn’t my first science fiction, it was definitely my introduction to a type of contemporary, forward-thinking short fiction that I had not been exposed to yet. All of that is too say I couldn’t think of a better market to break into!

As far as my submission history is concerned, before I sent “True Jing” to Asimov’s last year, I had been on a submission hiatus since I graduated from college in 2013. After a few years of consistent workshopping in my undergrad Creative Writing minor and a handful of rejected submissions, I felt the need to develop myself more on my own. I spent a lot of time producing music, playing in bands, and working on other forms of artistic expression until I was suddenly galvanized back into the prose writing habit by a few stellar issues of Clarkesworld and Asimov’s, etc. One month I wasn’t really writing at all, and the next month I was on a weekly routine of ~5000 words. “True Jing” was one of several stories that came out of that (still continuing) routine, and Asimovs was the second place I sent it!


“If you had asked me a year ago which markets I thought would be most likely to give me a rewrite, I don’t think I would have picked any of the “big three” (Asimov’s, Analog, F&SF). They must be too busy, right? Wrong—in my experience, it would appear that Sheila and the rest of the editorial staff is just as devoted to developing new writers as they are to bringing readers fresh work by their old favorites.”


 

AE: How did your experience with Asimov’s differ from other markets?

ZB: “True Jing” happened to be a very early submission in the revival of my writer’s life, but since then I’ve been lucky enough to experience the usual deluge of rejection that almost every writer gets to enjoy. I’ve got a nice big folder full of everything from “we really like this, but we aren’t going to buy it” down to “this needs work” and even a harsh but understandable “never.” Sometimes if I’m having trouble falling asleep I’ll recite the texts of my favorite form rejections (not really).

Continue reading “Q&A with Zack Be”

Q&A with Bruce Boston

Our most frequent contributor Bruce Boston took the time to speak with us about his long history with Asimov’s, how a poem becomes a series, the process of collaboration, and much more in our latest Q&A. Make sure to check out Bruce’s most recent poem, “Unwritten,” in our current issue.

 


AE: Bruce, our readers are quite familiar with your work, as you are a regular in our table of contents. Can you talk a little bit about your history with Asimov’s?

BB: I published my first poem in Asimov’s SF in 1984. Since then, I’ve had poems in every year of the magazine, sometimes as many as five in one year. In sum, I’ve appeared in more issues of Asimov’s than any other author, and have been fortunate enough to receive the Asimov’s Readers Award seven times.

Most of my poems for Asimov’s are what I consider populist poems. By this I mean they are written for literate and intelligent readers who don’t normally read poetry, which seems appropriate for a fiction magazine. Writing poems primarily for those who read poetry is different, though the two are not always mutually exclusive.

 

AE: I know that the “Music of” series were particular hits with our readership. Do you find yourself working in series frequently?

BB: Part of what a writer does is look at the world from different perspectives. How else could one create believable characters and realities? In poetry, this kind of diverse perspective can lead to series poems when one takes a common genre trope and applies it across a spectrum of ideas and/or situations. I’ve had three other series beside the “Music of” poems that appeared regularly in Asimov’s: Accursed Wives, Anthropomorphisms, and humorous list poems, all of which eventually spawned their own collections. I’ve also written series about an alchemist and about deep spacers.

Another kind of list poem occurs when poems are exploring a particular world the author has created. I’ve written this kind of series while collaborating with three other authors in worlds we jointly created: Notes from the Shadow City with Gary W. Crawford, Sacrificial Nights with Alessandro Manzetti, and both Chronicles of the Mutant Rain Forest and Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest with Robert Frazier.

So to finally return to your question: Yes, I do find myself working in series frequently.

 

AE: We noticed that you and Bob Frazier were on the Final Bram Stoker Award ballot for your poetry and fiction collection Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest (which I proudly have on my own bookshelf!). Congrats! How did this collaboration come about, and where can our readers pick up their own copy?

BB: As Bob has stated elsewhere: “In the mid 80s, Bruce asked for a submission for the literary magazine Berkeley Poets Cooperative. I air-mailed ‘On the Rio Madeira,’ a cautionary tale of a mutated creature from the waters of the Amazon. He liked the milieu: mutation and the jungle. I had previously explored their collision in two other poems, but Bruce insisted there were rich poetic possibilities still to be mined. Soon we were trading stanzas to ‘Return to the Mutant Rain Forest,’ which did well for us, and, more importantly, became the kick-start to a growing series.

“We kept at it until the engines of creation wound down, the smoke and ashes cleared, and we held enough pieces for the poetry collection Chronicles of the Mutant Rain Forest (Horror’s Head, 1992). The experience was heady, organic, overwhelming, and heartfelt from the get-go.”

At the time I read “On the Rio Madeira,” I had also been reading the short stories of B. Traven of Treasure of the Sierra Madre fame. Bob’s descriptions of a mutating forest along with Traven’s evocations of an actual rainforest combined to create a sense of untapped mysteries I found irresistible. An old saw for beginning writers is to write about what you know. Judging from reader response, Bob and I, writing mainly from our imaginations, flew in the face of this tired adage successfully with the Mutant Rain Forest poems and stories.

Our recent collection, Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest (Crystal Lake, 2017) containing solo and collaborative poetry and fiction, can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most other online booksellers.

 

AE: What is the story behind your poem in the current issue of Asimov’s?

BB: “Unwritten” was inspired by the saying: “History is written by the winners.” Clearly, if the Axis Powers had won World War II, the history in our books and the history taught in our schools would be far different from what we have today. Yet even if one had the histories of the losers as well as the winners, it would still be no more than two biased viewpoints, a miniscule sliver of what actually transpired. Regarding any historical era or event, the comprehensive and real history only exists in the experiences of those who lived through it. And unfortunately, those are seldom recorded and are for the most part lost to us.

 

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?

BB: Some themes recur and some evolve over time. At the heart of the Mutant Rain Forest series is the environmental theme of the Earth rebelling against humanity’s despoliations of the planet. Yet the series also embodies more individual themes of spirituality, artistic creation, and the conflict between security and adventure. The Accursed Wives and Accursed Husbands poems and stories explore male-female relationships and the different ways mates can abuse and exploit one another. I’ve also written a fair number of sociopolitical poems. The poem “In the Garden of the State,” which touches on the relationship between the individual and the state, eventually led to my dystopian SF novel The Guardener’s Tale.

 

AE: What other projects are you currently working on? 

BB: Currently, I’m putting the finishing touches on my forthcoming poetry collection Artifacts, due from Independent Legions in July. It will include reprints from both Asimov’s and Analog, along with other publications, and also seven new poems appearing here for the first time.

 

 


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

BB: I can only speak from my own experience, but I still think the advice is sound. Read, read some more, and keep reading. I’ve learned far more about writing from reading the authors I enjoy and admire than I ever have from workshops or classes.


 

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?

BB: I have two: the colonization of other planets, including those circling other stars, and the discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life somewhere in the Universe.

 

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

BB: Honestly, I’d have none to confess to. I’ve had a lot of different jobs over the years—computer programmer, technical writer, creative writing professor, writing for encyclopedias, retail clerk, book designer, gardener, furniture mover, etc.—but never considered any of them careers. They were all means to support my creative writing. They affected my writing the same way all life experiences—friendships, love affairs, familial relations, conflicts, even solitude—inform one’s consciousness of the world.

 

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

BB: For a general background and bibliography, check my Wikipedia entry.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Boston

For more specific details and links to available books, visit my website.

http://bruceboston.com/

For current publications and activities, follow me on Facebook, where I also regularly post poems old and new.

https://www.facebook.com/bruce.boston.50

 


Bruce Boston is the author of more than fifty books and chapbooks, including the novels The Guardener’s Tale and Stained Glass Rain. His poetry has received the Bram Stoker Award, the Asimov’s Readers Award, and the Rhysling and Grandmaster Awards of the SFPA. His fiction has received a Pushcart Prize and twice been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award (novel, short story). His latest collection, Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest, is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.

The Way the Future Used to Be

By Peter Wood

Write what you know. Hemmingway made a career out of novels about fishing, drinking, and cards. Faulkner seldom ventured outside mythical Yoknapatawpha County. Bradbury lifted small town America to Mars.

Most of my stories are Southern Fried Science Fiction. I like bluegrass music, barbecue, fried chicken, iced tea, and ACC basketball. My characters do too. Many of my stories take place in my hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. Sometimes I venture as far as Kinston, Sanford or the world’s perfect vacation spot—the mountain town of Boone.

But, what of stories like Robots, Riverboats, and Ransom in the Regular Way? In this month’s Asimov’s, I write about the distant future aboard an interstellar star ship. What do I know about that?

Plenty.

I grew up immersed in the Retro Future—the sort of world preserved in Tomorrowland in Disney World. The way we conceived the twenty-first century and beyond in the 1950s. Think Golden Age Science fiction. The Pulps. Heinlein. Frederick Pohl. Fritz Leiber. Isaac Asimov. In my own small way, I want to bring it back.

This year’s Best Picture Oscar went to The Shape of Water, a film firmly rooted in the Retro Future. What a poignant and loving take on 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I’ve very grateful to have sold seven stories to Asimov’s. Every single one had its seeds in my childhood.


Radio drama makes a fleeting comeback every so often.


 

Drink in a Small Town” (March 2014) is basically a half hour Twilight Zone episode. If it has any inspiration—besides the Happy Tap bar in Dublin, Georgia that sadly closed down and took its recipe for the world’s best hamburger with it—it might be the episode “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up.” Guy walks into a lonely restaurant and things are not what they seem.

Continue reading “The Way the Future Used to Be”

We Lost Control a Long Time Ago

Sue Burke, whose novelette “Life From the Sky” is in our current issue, graces us with a deeply thoughtful and intriguing post that covers a far-ranging set of issues including self-realization, technology, anonymity, the changing nature of truth, and the power of science fiction.


by Sue Burke

 

We all need to achieve self-realization. We’ve been told this by Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow, and several Eastern religions.

We should know ourselves deeply, they say, to understand who and what we are. When we do, we’ll awaken our potential and fulfill the latent possibilities of our character and personality. With self-realization, we’ll achieve our ultimate goal as human beings and find inner peace.

On the other hand, Martians could suddenly land and blast all of humanity into ashes. Knowing our true selves will not save us.

This way of thinking about things—that external events matter more than individual self-realization—might account for the difficulty some people have with science fiction. Its stories tell an uncomfortable truth, according to Barry N. Malzberg. He began writing in the 1970s, and the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls him “a master of black humor.”

In a 1980 essay titled “The Number of the Beast” in the book Breakfast in the Ruins, Malzberg tried to define science fiction. He said it “holds that the encroachment of technological or social change will make the future different and that it will feel different to those within it. In a technologically altered culture, people will regard themselves and their lives in ways that we cannot comprehend.”

The concept of science fiction as the literature of change wasn’t new. Then he took the definition into perilous territory.

Continue reading “We Lost Control a Long Time Ago”

Q&A with Marc Laidlaw

Marc Laidlaw returns to Asimov’s with a new short story, “A Mammoth, So-Called” in the current issue on sale now. Here, he chats with us about playing with form and revisiting the classics.


 

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind “A Mammoth, So-Called”?

Marc Laidlaw: Recently I went through all of my papers in order to donate them to a library. There were many, many story fragments but this one, dating from 1991 (and showing an interest in the themes that obsessed me at the time), was complete. It was written in the form of a scientific report, but the lack of technical detail made it rather unconvincing, and I remembered why I was never satisfied with it. I rescued it from the files and started tinkering with it, and realized that what it needed to offset the scientific aspect was an element of fabulation—to make a tall-tale of it. That inspired the framing device. I have never written anything before in the mode of a traditional “club story,” but the model was perfect for this piece. I was a little surprised to discover that my style had not changed much in the last 25 year, and in many ways it seems like a story I could have dreamed up and written a week ago. I do, however, think that unlike most of my stories, it is a rare piece of science fiction rather than fantasy, and that’s why I thought it might be right for Asimov’s.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?

ML: I was trying to keep up with the current trend of including as much punctuation as possible in my title. Continue reading “Q&A with Marc Laidlaw”

Into the Tsunami: Q&A with David Gerrold & Ctein

Our readers will find a tense, exciting novella coauthored by David Gerrold & Ctein in our current issue on sale now. The sheer emotional magnitude of “Bubble and Squeak” is astounding—and it is clear that meticulous research informs the story to support this  rich, thrilling experience. Luckily David and Ctein agreed to chat about this process and the larger work this is a part of—their novel-in-progress Ripple Effect. Their interviews are woven together below—enjoy!

Find an excerpt of this tale on the Asimov’s website.


Asimov’s Editor: It is always a treat to publish a collaborative story. Every collaborative work seems to have its own process and style: How did you two approach coauthoring this piece?

Ctein: Before I get into the questions, I should mention that David and I thought it would be more entertaining to answer them individually, without consulting each other in any way. Should it turn out that we contradict each other, well—as Walt Whitman would have put it—we contain multitudes. Should some people be perturbed by that, the alternative explanation is that David and I inhabit parallel universes so what each of us says, even if it contradicts the other, is true.

“Bubble & Squeak” is about 20% of the novel that David and I are writing together, currently titled “Ripple Effect” (more about the novel later). It’s one of several interwoven storylines the novel follows. Each of us has had ideas for storylines to go into the novel, and generally speaking we’re writing them individually and then passing them back and forth. In this particular case, David had an idea for one of those subplots set in LA. We discussed the broad (sub)plot points ahead of time, but the details were all his to create (my subplots are developed similarly).* What was special about David’s was that it was so well-focused that when he was finished we realized it would make a good standalone novella.

David wrote the whole first draft. Then he passed it on to me for a rewrite, and I mucked with it. Then we fought about what I’d mucked with (‘cause that’ll happen sometimes), and I will claim I won most of those fights. Not because I’m a better writer, but because second draft is always better than first and a fresh pair of eyes is always better than a stale one.

He gave it a final pass, I gave it a sanity check, and off it went to Sheila. She suggested a very few modest (and entirely correct) changes. They got incorporated, and there you are!

*(No, I’ll take credit for one detail. David’s first idea was that it would be about a boy saving his girlfriend. I opined that this was shaping up to be an awfully “straight” novel, especially considering that both of its authors had been “out” for decades. So maybe it could be a GIRL rescuing her girlfriend . . . or . . .)

David Gerrold: “Bubble and Squeak” is part of a much larger work. We write stuff, we pass it back and forth for multiple conferences, rewrites, polishes, and tweaks. I specifically wanted to do this part of the story. Because of my familiarity with the landscape, I could take the reader across half the LA basin.

AE: Have either of you worked with another author (perhaps each other) before? In what ways was this experience different? Continue reading “Into the Tsunami: Q&A with David Gerrold & Ctein”

Q&A with Jane Lindskold

Our current May/June issue [on sale now], contains the talented Jane Lindskold’s first Asimov’s appearance with “Unexpected Flowers.” Get to know her and what inspires her work in our newest author Q&A!


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

Jane Lindskold: My mother sent us flowers for Valentine’s Day. Repeatedly. They kept being delivered to the wrong address—the same wrong address. My sister’s flowers arrived, but without a card. I began speculating as to the impact of anonymous Valentine’s bouquets and the story blossomed from there.

 

AE: How did “Unexpected Flowers” germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

JL: “Germinate”? Seriously? The spark was quick, but working through the logic trees and their various ramifications took a while. I gave a copy to a friend of mine who is a specialist in computer algebra and he said very approvingly that it was a nicely mathematical story.

I also wanted it to be a real story, so the main character does develop over the course of events. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be a story, just an exercise in empty speculation.

  Continue reading “Q&A with Jane Lindskold”