An Accidental Poet

by William Shunn

 

     I never set out to be a poet. Everything that led to poems like “The Golem” [on sale in our September/October issue now] appearing in print happened by accident.

     All right, sure, I did have ambitions to publish my poems when I was in high school in the early ’80s. I even submitted a few to Asimov’s. But looking back over those early efforts, it would appear that my technique consisted mostly of flipping through a thesaurus in search of ten-dollar words I didn’t quite understand and cramming them into sentences where they didn’t quite fit. Those poems still languish, deservedly, in the darkest recesses of my filing cabinet.

     I did always intend to publish fiction. From college on, that was my main focus, and poetry fell by the wayside. I started selling stories here and there, including one to Washed by a Wave of Wind, an anthology of science fiction from the Intermountain West, edited by M. Shayne Bell. When the anthology was published in December 1993, Shayne and I and several other contributors set out in a big van on a book tour to obscure corners of Utah.

     Besides writing wonderful science fiction, Shayne was poetry editor for a regional magazine called Sunstone. As we passed down a dusty desert highway through Goblin Valley (or some equally weird and marvelous geological landscape), he challenged everyone in the van to write a poem inspired by the sights we were seeing. Later that day we read our poems aloud to one another. I cringed as I read my offering, “Salt Crusted on Automotive Glass,” filled as it was with my trademark polysyllabic words. In contrast with the other poems, I sounded to my own ears like a 26-year-old punk trying to prove how smart he was.

     I could not have been more surprised, a few weeks later, when Shayne asked me if he could publish my poem in Sunstone.

     Despite this accidental success, I did not write much poetry for nearly two decades more. In October 2010, I was living in Chicago and took over co-hosting duties at a monthly literary reading series called Tuesday Funk. When I returned to the microphone after one of our guests had read several poems, I rather cheekily improvised a poem that I called “Dogwalker’s Algorithm.” It went like this, in full:

 if

      poop

   then

     scoop

     This was meant to be no more than a self-deprecating joke, but as the next month’s reading approached I found myself writing a new poem, which I read at the midpoint of the next show. Without meaning to, I had inaugurated a new and surprisingly popular feature at Tuesday Funk: the Poem by Bill.

     For the next three years, I wrote a new poem for every episode of Tuesday Funk, often pounding out my monthly offering in a panicky sweat in the final hours before the show. Despite the applause from our small barroom audience, I never considered my efforts to be serious poetry worthy of publication.

     I eventually left Chicago, and early in 2016 I founded a new literary reading series, Line Break, in my neighborhood in Queens, New York. Line Break features an eclectic mix of essays, poetry, and fiction of all genres. In July 2017, Line Break landed itself a thirty-minute slot at the New York City Poetry Festival on Governors Island. Among the accomplished poets I invited to read with me there was Emily Hockaday, Asimov’s associate editor.

     I’d known Emily for a few years, but this was the first time she had heard my poetry. After the reading, she suggested I submit some of my work to Asimov’s and Analog. That’s how a poem called “Telegraph,” which debuted at Tuesday Funk in Chicago, ended up in a recent issue of Analog, and how my newer poem “The Golem” found its way into Asimov’s. These are my first published poems in nearly twenty-five years. I couldn’t be happier—and it all happened by accident!

     Encouraged by these sales, I’ve continued writing new poems and sending them out. I’ve gathered plenty of rejections, of course, but a few acceptances too. Four of my poems, in fact, will appear later this fall in a journal called Newtown Literary. One is very new, but the other three were all originally written to be read at Tuesday Funk.

     The moral of the story, if there is one, is that you never know when some creative endeavor will bear fruit, even if you don’t mean it too. Now if I could only accidentally sell a novel!


william-shunnWilliam Shunn’s three dozen works of short fiction have appeared everywhere from Asimov’s to Salon, and have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon Awards. His memoir The Accidental Terrorist, which intertwines his youthful misadventures with an irreverent biography of Joseph Smith, appeared in 2015 and was shortlisted for the Association for Mormon Letters Award. He currently serves on the XPRIZE Science Fiction Advisory Council, and he hosts and produces the monthly Line Break Reading Series near his home in Astoria, Queens. Learn more at www.shunn.net.

How to Make a Weak Saturday Night Live Skit into a Solid Twilight Zone Episode

David Erik Nelson’s terrifying story “In the Sharing Place” is in our September/October issue on sale now. Join him below as he demonstrates how a genre-switch can save a mediocre piece of writing.


Craftspeople, as a class, spend a lot of time annoyed.

Why? Imagine that you love a thing so much that you want to create more of that thing. But creating that thing is hard; it takes skills you don’t have and time you don’t have, pays very little, and opens you up to criticism and abuse from a lot of armchair generals. But you love the thing a lot (and are a great fool), so you invest a lot of energy in honing the skills need to create more of that thing you love. Meanwhile, since you love the thing, you keep seeking the thing out. Noting the immutability of Sturgeon’s Law, it is inevitable that as your skills improve and tastes grow refined—and you keep devouring ever more of the thing—you’re going to hit an ever-increasing number of examples of imperfect executions of that Thing You Love.

Profound, near-constant annoyance is the natural consequence.

You can do two things with that annoyance:

  1. You can kvetch about it (probably on social media, and almost certainly preaching to your choir)—or
  2. You can rewrite it the way you would have written it (i.e., the Right Way, Dammit!™)

PRO-TIP: Every working artist I’ve asked about this sits squarely in Group #2. The Phantom Menace alone has spawned at least seven published novels penned by hella annoyed sf/f fans.

Consider this SNL skit—which comes so very, very close to being The Best Twilight Zone Episode Never Written that it just about makes you want to weep with frustration. Take five minutes to watch it now:

This piece could be great—it starts out so solidly!—but ultimately falls flat and is unsatisfying. Why? What went wrong?

What Went Wrong with the Greatest Twilight Zone Episode Never Written

The problem is in the Resolution (that’s the final 10% of the piece — for an overview of my 45/45/10 Formula for narrative, check out this blog post or this one).

In any piece the Setup (i.e., the first 45% of the story) creates a series of “open loops.” These need to be closed in the Resolution in order for the piece to feel satisfied. The open loops here include social isolation (which is introduced by Danny within the first 10 seconds, and gongingly amplified by his goofy dream of singing “I wish” songs with his non-existent friends), a Twilight Zone leitmotif (evoked by the musical cues, camera work, and acting style—especially with He-Man and Lion-o), and also elements of sexual frustration. This last item is lightly implied by mother’s nap, but really explicitly introduced by He-Man. Crucially, the audience gets hit over the head with the sexual frustration open loop around the 2min10sec mark (when sexually frustrated He-Man punches through a wall out of—wait for it—sexual frustration). Having this happen at 2min10sec puts this bit of stage business at ~45% of the way through the piece. The 45% mark is where a story naturally transitions from the Setup (the section of the story during which all of the necessary elements are introduced and put into place) to the Tangle (i.e., the place where the situation outlined in the Setup is complicated in a way that cannot be ignored or undone—again, if you need more on the Formula, check the bulleted 45/45/10 Formula overview here).

Given both the placement in the narrative arc and the inherent drama of having a character punch through a wall, you’re bound to leave the audience feeling like this issue is really, really important.

And then they introduce She-Ra—already a sorta-kinda sexually charged nostalgia signifier—being played by Ariana Grande(!!!).

So, to recap, here are the unresolved open loops:

  1. Social Isolation (explicitly tied to a desire to express oneself communally in song)
  2. Twilight Zone-iness
  3. Sexual Frustration

And we’ve just brought Ariana Grande onstage: a very gregarious and sexually attractive young woman with a stunning singing voice. The audience is gonna have certain sorta obvious expectations about the basic outline of how these loops should be resolved.

Most importantly, given how short the piece is, and how all three open loops orbit Danny (the protagonist), their Resolution needs to cinch those loops tight around him.

Does this skit do that?

No, dammit!

Let’s look at the Resolution as written: Sexual frustration is sorta addressed (but not for the protagonist—just for side-characters Mom, Lion-o, and He-Man). Meanwhile, the social isolation and the Twilight Zone aesthetic loops go entirely unaddressed. Watch that final bit where Danny exists alone (it’s around 4:15): It almost seems more like the actor (Kyle Mooney) is expressing his frustration with the skit, rather than fictional Danny expressing his frustration with his life.

As an audience member, I’m kinda let down. As a writer, I’m almost fatally annoyed, because they were so close to knocking this out of the damned park!

How to Turn a Mediocre SNL Skit into the Greatest Twilight Zone Episode Never Written

First, keep the Setup unchanged (that’s the first two minutes or so). It’s a fine Setup, really. Next, in the Tangle (that’s the next two-ish minutes), keep almost everything the same. But—and this is important—strike the Danny/She-ra birthday hug gag (near 3:26—don’t worry; we are still going to use this gag, just later, to close the skit.)

Let’s run through what we’ve got now: Same Setup (Twilight Zone look-n-feel, Danny’s social isolation, living giant toys, etc.). We introduce sexual frustration. He-Man busts through the wall after Sister. He brings back She-ra. The three ambulatory RealDolls start trashing the joint. Mom comes in, chemistry sparks with her and the hunks. Those three leave for the hot tub.

Now Danny asks She-ra for his birthday hug. We keep She-ra’s reply as written—she doesn’t like hugs; she likes to smash!—and Danny announces: “Well, I like singing songs with my friends—even if that means singing by myself!”

Unashamed, he begins belting out his “I wish” song. She-ra (who, you’ll recall, is being played by a goddamned operatic pop star) is taken by Danny’s heartfelt song; she’s a warrior princess, and has never before heard the beauty of song. She begins to sing along with him—and then returns to smashing, never flagging in her song or fury. Danny, thrilled to finally have a friend, keeps singing and he starts smashing the joint up, too.

The camera pulls back, swivels, and reveals a black-&-white Rod Serling (everything else is still in color—I’d tap Bill Hader for this, unless they have Jon Hamm as their host). Cue Twilight Zone bongos. Rod Serling looks dead into the camera, puffs cigarette, and delivers a Twilight Zone-style summary outro:

“A lonely young boy. A savage warrior princess. An unlikely birthday wish—and an unlikely duet that could only happen . . . in mom’s hot tub”

—Serling stomps out his cigarette and races out the door to join Mom’s hot tub orgy.

Boom!

That’s the skit this skit clearly wants to be.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about: Twilight Zone, Lion-o’s frosting codpiece, He-Man’s sexual urges, and a boy who just wants to sing his special songs.

—David Erik Nelson


 

Q&A with Mary Soon Lee

Accomplished poet and fiction writer Mary Soon-Lee is in the pages of Asimov’s this month with her poem “Packing for the Afterlife” in our slightly spooky September/October issue.


 

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

MSL: The person doing the packing in the poem isn’t me, but there is an overlap between us. The poem’s first stanza is colored by childhood memories: my mother was Irish; my father would sing hymns while slowly picking out the notes on the piano. The remainder of the poem draws on things I’ve loved since I moved to America: the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the first time I saw Saturn through a telescope.

 

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

MSL: I often write sets of poems with a thematic or narrative connection, but this one is a stand-alone piece.

 

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

MSL: I began submitting to Asimov’s back in 1992, and continued for years without success. Following the birth of my second child, I took a long hiatus, first writing very little at all, then, when I did write, working on mainstream poetry. In 2013, I returned to writing fantasy and science fiction, and so also returned to submitting to Asimov’s. “Packing for the Afterlife” is my first piece to appear in Asimov’s, but I’m happy to say I have another poem waiting in the inventory.

 

AE: What is your process?

MSL: I try not to write when my daughter is home, although now that she is getting older (she’s thirteen), it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. After dropping Lucy at school, I start the laundry, etc., then settle down to write with my cats for company. With poetry or flash fiction, I can usually complete the first draft during the school day. Even if that initial draft is quick to write, I typically revise stories and poems later, trying to improve them.

 

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

MSL: I stretch out on the long couch in the living room with my cats on top of me, and jot down ideas or idea-fragments on a sheet of paper. I also keep a file with unused ideas that might inspire me at a later point. Nowadays, I am very rarely entirely stuck. This is partly because I have several loose collections of poems that I can add to, such as a collection of cat poems.

 

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

MSL: Since it is July when I’m answering this question: nothing at all. My son is home from college, my daughter is home from middle school, and I am spending more time with my family, plus catching up on my reading. When my children are back at school, I hope to complete two science-poetry projects, an incomplete sequence of astronomy poems, plus a second project where I’ve written the poems, but will be writing brief science notes to accompany them.

 


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

MSL: I would love to see humans colonize the Solar System, and even, ideally, beyond the Solar System.


 

AE: What are you reading right now?

MSL: Right now I’m reading the poetry chapbooks that have been nominated for this year’s Elgin Award, which is an annual award from SFPA—the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association—for the best books of speculative poetry. Twenty-one books were nominated this year in the chapbook category, and I am reading them prior to voting.

 

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

MSL: Be persistent. Don’t abandon hope because you receive rejections, but instead keep trying to improve your craft. As one of my earlier answers indicates, it took me many years to sell to Asimov’s. I think it is also very helpful to read widely.

 

AE: What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?

MSL: I’ve managed to forget almost an entire language. When I was fourteen and fifteen years old, I studied ancient Greek. There was a brief high point when I could read bits of the Odyssey in Greek, and translate simple sentences from English into Greek. Unfortunately, I have retained little more than the alphabet!

 

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

MSL: I have an antiquated website at http://www.marysoonlee.com, and also a Twitter account: @MarySoonLee.

 


 

Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but has lived in Pittsburgh for over twenty years. She writes both fiction and poetry, and her work has appeared in Analog, Daily SF, F&SF, Lightspeed, and Science. She has an antiquated website at http://www.marysoonlee.com and tweets at @MarySoonLee.

Q&A with Carrie Vaughn

As she mentions below, Carrie Vaughn’s novelette “The Huntsman and the Beast” is her fifth appearance in our magazine [on sale now], making her a regular contributor—and our readers are grateful for it! In this blog post, she gives us an insight into her writing process and her recent forays into new genres.

 


 

Asimov’s Editor: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

CV: To be completely honest, the idea for “The Huntsman and the Beast” came from watching the live-action Disney Beauty and the Beast film last year. This is a story that’s had dozens of retellings, novel, and film versions. One of my favorite writers, Robin McKinley, has written several novel-length retellings. They’re all great and all have something interesting about them, but I suddenly wanted to see something really different. It’s traditionally such a feminine story, with women at the center of them dealing with women’s perspectives on relationships, I wanted to put a man in the center of the story and see how that changed things. How does he deal with being a prisoner, the monstrousness of his captor, etc.

 

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?

CV: I relate to both Jack and the Beast, who are both doing the best they can in an unusual situation. They’re both quite practical and down to earth, and I like that. The fun in writing the story was seeing how I could get them to realize that they’re well suited for each other, despite their trust issues. The story really has more in common with a modern romance than a traditional fairy tale.

 

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

CV: I started sending stories to Asimov’s when I was something like 16 years old. I was a very energetic aspiring writer back then. But I wasn’t a very good writer, so it took me until about 2006, after over a decade of trying, to actually sell a story to the magazine. It was always a huge goal of mine, and it’s great to think that I’m now almost a “regular” contributor. This is my fifth appearance in the magazine.

 

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?

CV: This is something of a tough question, because on the one hand, I don’t consciously set out to write about current events. I feel like a lot of my writing is based in fairy tales and mythology or conventional genre tropes, and I’m in conversation more with other literature and entertainment than politics or current events. But then when I really look at my work—particularly the novels and stories in my Bannerless series, that extrapolates what a civilization-ending collapse would look like based on current events—of course all the current issues are there. It seeps in whether I want it to or not. I can’t talk about people, politics, or how they all work together without incorporating what I see happening around me.

 

AE: What is your process?

CV: I write a little bit every day, usually on a couple of different projects—a novel and a couple of short stories. I do some outlining but never enough—it’s hard to predict where a story’s going to go until I’m working on it. I try to know the end before I start so I know where I’m aiming. I almost always get stuck and have to walk away to clear my head. I also do a lot of revising—almost everything I write goes through at least a couple major drafts.

 

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

CV: Writers’ block is usually a sign that the story has gone awry and I have to figure out why it isn’t working—the plot took a wrong turn, the characters aren’t active or engaged, whatever. I try to take a break and work on something else so my subconscious can noodle with the problem. I also try to step away from the computer, write long hand, brainstorm ridiculous solutions to the problem, and so on. Doing something different can usually break through the block.

 

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

CV: My most recent novel, The Wild Dead, a post-apocalyptic murder mystery, was just released over the summer. I’ve got a number of short stories in the hopper, and I’m starting to dive into the world of novellas—I haven’t really written at that length before and I’m finding it’s perfect for certain stories. I have one, “Gremlin,” that will be out in Asimov’s in the near future, I think. I’m also working on a big fat (for me) fantasy novel, which is very different from a lot of my other work, so that’s fun.

 

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

CV: That’s a tough one, though I find myself going back and forth between either Star Trek or Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan universe. The real question with each of those is where would I actually fit in those universes? They both have some pretty nasty corners to them. Of course I would like to live in one of the nice corners, with all of the great parts of living in a highly-technological space-faring society, and not the more violent and oppressive corners.

 

AE: What are you reading right now?

CV: I’ve really been bouncing around between lots of different things. I just read Witchmark by C.L. Polk, which is a lovely steampunkish fantasy with a sweet romance, and Naomi Novik’s new fantasy Spinning Silver. I also dug into my long-running TBR stack and read An Exchange of Hostages by Susan R. Matthews.

 

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

CV: I spent eight years as an administrative assistant in an accounting office. The most direct result of this is I have a shockingly high number of main characters who are accountants or office managers (most notably Celia West in my Golden Age superhero novels), mostly because that’s such an ordinary mundane thing that it’s surprising to see stories written about it, and I like to surprise readers.

I also spent a few years out of college working in an independent bookstore and that taught me so much about the book business and what readers are looking for and what they’ll put up with that I’m still grateful for that time.

 

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing? (IE: Social media handles, website URL . . .)

CV: My website is www.carrievaughn.com

I’m on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/carrie.vaughn

I have a blog at https://carriev.wordpress.com/

 


 

Carrie Vaughn is best known for her New York Times bestselling series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty who hosts a talk radio show for the supernaturally disadvantaged. Her latest novels include a post-apocalyptic murder mystery, Bannerless, winner of the Philip K. Dick Award, and its sequel, The Wild Dead. She’s written several other contemporary fantasy and young adult novels, as well as upwards of 80 short stories, two of which have been finalists for the Hugo Award. She’s a contributor to the Wild Cards series of shared world superhero books edited by George R. R. Martin and a graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop. An Air Force brat, she survived her nomadic childhood and managed to put down roots in Boulder, Colorado. Visit her at www.carrievaughn.com.

Q&A with Rick Wilber

Rick Wilber’s latest (Could it be his last? Read on to find out!) Moe Berg story, “The Secret City,” is in our current issue [on sale now]. Here he discusses the conception of the series and describes the many other writing and teaching projects that keep him busy.


Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece? How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

RW: The back story of “The Secret City” starts with my friend Ben Bova, the novelist and editor. Ben and I had collaborated some years ago on a screen treatment about a fictionalized version of Moe Berg, a famous baseball player who became a spy during World War II. That ultimately came to nothing, but Ben’s deep baseball knowledge and his familiarity with Moe’s fascinating story got me started on writing about him. I grew up in a baseball family—my father played for the Red Sox and Phillies and Cardinals, and was a coach, a scout, and a minor-league manager until he retired in his 60s—but for some reason I hadn’t heard about Moe. So I read Nicholas Dawidoff’s excellent biography, The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg, and that was it, I was hooked. I started reading everything I could find on Moe, including another excellent book, Heisenberg’s War: The Secret History of the German Bomb by Thomas Powers. That book explores German physicist Werner Heisenberg and his leadership of the German A-bomb program during World War II.

There’s quite a bit in the book about Moe Berg, including passages about the famous Zurich incident where Moe was incognito in the audience at a lecture by Heisenberg in neutral Switzerland, with orders to assassinate Heisenberg if it looked like the German program was close to building a super bomb. The incident has been fictionalized a number of times by some great writers, but I wanted to take my own my crack at it and I did so in the story, “Something Real,” which appeared in Asimov’s in the April/May 2012 issue. I set it in an alternate history and got pretty wild with it. It was a great pleasure to write, and I was absurdly pleased when it won the 2012 Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History—Short Form.

The enjoyment of writing that story and placing it with Asimov’s led me to write another Moe Berg story for the magazine, “At Palomar,” which ran in the July 2013 issue, and then another, “In Dublin, Fair City,” which ran in the November/December 2017 issue, and now “The Secret City,” which is very much a follow-up to the Dublin story and by far the most ambitious of all my Moe Berg stories.

I should add that the novella, “The Wandering Warriors,” co-authored by Alan Smale and myself, might well be another Moe Berg story. Moe isn’t mentioned by name in that story, but Alan and I decided it would be fun—and that story is very much a fun romp—if the character of The Professor was suspiciously similar to Moe Berg. At least one major critic noticed the similarity and, in writing a very nice review of the story, assumed the character was Moe. The story ran in the May/June 2018 issue of Asimov’s.

And now there’s “The Secret City,” which in some ways seems to wrap up my alternate-history take on Moe’s career as a spy. It’s interesting that “The Secret City” has come out just a month or so after the movie version of Moe’s work as a baseball player and OSS spy career hit the theaters and the streaming services. That movie, “The Catcher Was a Spy,” is based on Dawidoff’s biography.

Is this my last Moe Berg story? I’ve been saying that on social media, but lately I’ve gotten interested in the fascinating story of Hedy Lamarr, the Hollywood film star in the 1930s and 1940s who was also an inventor. Along with composer George Antheil, she developed and patented a radio-guidance device that could be used to steer torpedoes toward the ships they were trying to sink. In our reality, that invention wasn’t used in the war effort. But in some alternate history I can see Hedy and Moe having some adventures in the North Atlantic, using this guidance system to sink the ship carrying heavy water to the site of the German bomb program. Sounds like fun, so watch for “Alternating Currents” sometime soon.

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

RW: In our history, during the Manhattan Project, to develop an atom bomb and end the war, several cities were nicknamed Secret City, including Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford/Richland, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico. All three were purpose-built to house the people and equipment necessary to the building of an atom bomb.

In my alternate history, though, I focus tightly on Los Alamos as my setting, and so I limit The Secret City nickname to that one town.

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?

RW: Normally, current events don’t have much impact on my writing, but under our current political climate in the United States, that has changed. With these Moe Berg stories, in particular, I’m dealing with the U.S. in one alternate universe or another and the battle against fascism with all its darkness. In our own timeline, America had a serious flirtation with fascism in the years leading up to World War II. The American Bund (details here), Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and many were openly admirers of Adolf Hitler. They all embraced a very destructive demagogue. I see worrisome parallels to that in today’s political arena in America.

The Moe Berg stories are focused on spycraft and baseball, in that order. But it’s important, I think, to not dodge the horrors that fascism in the 1930s and 1940s brought to our timeline, so I have them threaten the world similarly in Moe’s other timelines. In “The Secret City” that anti-fascist thread runs right through the story. It includes an alternate take on famous German general Erwin Rommel, who was skeptical of Hitler’s plans in our reality and is even more so in the alternate past I posit. I also have Moe in conversations with my alternate versions of OSS chief William “Wild Bill” Donovan and U.S. President Eleanor Roosevelt. I even have a character who went through an alternate version of the Spanish Civil War and reminds Moe and his handler of the perils the world faces from fascism. All of this, I hope, adds a little heft to the importance of Moe’s work in the fight against fascism in that alternate universe.

AE: What is your process?

RW: I seem to write best in the morning, so my process is to get up around 7 a.m., get coffeed up, and then sit in my favorite lounger chair with my laptop literally on my lap, my headphones on (probably listening to Lord Huron, a band I really like) and see how much work I can get done by 11 a.m., when I break for lunch. It’s back to work then after lunch, though the afternoon is often when household chores, from vacuuming (a very necessary thing when the family dog is a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy) to mowing the grass to washing the dishes. My wife and I eat an early supper, around 5 p.m., and then I go for my daily 8-10 mile bike ride around 7:30 pm, when the Florida heat has, maybe, eased off a little.

My wife is a finance professor at a local college, so she’s often in meetings or teaching on campus, leaving me in charge of the seventy-pound Bernese puppy. But my wife also teaches online a lot, so there are hours that pass by with her at one computer, me at another, and the puppy asleep on the cool, kitchen tile.

I prefer working on one project at a time, but somehow that never happens, so I’ll focus on the next novel one day, a new short story the next day, and try and go back and forth successfully. And every day there are other writing projects—like this blog post—that need to be done, and other social media work to get done. And I’m in the middle right now of several fun editing projects—an anthology, a new collection of my short stories—and so I never get as much done as I’d like each day, but I keep plugging away.

With shorter work I like to get a good first draft done in a week or two. Or three. Or four. And then spend a similar amount of time revising before I send it in. With novels, I treat each chapter as if it’s a short story, trying to get it done so I can come back to edit and revise. Usually I’ll revise that chapter and that leads me into writing the next one with the story fresh in my mind.

AE: How did you break into writing?

RW: I grew up in a sports family, so I naturally gravitated toward sportswriting. I was a sports stringer for several papers when I was an undergraduate in college, covering Illinois high-school basketball or other local amateur sports. I was on the college baseball and basketball teams at the time, so I was really steeped in sports.

I loved that and started freelancing sports stories for national magazines a few years later at about the same time I started my teaching career at Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville. But I’d always loved science fiction, too, and had been a heavy reader of SF/F since I was in elementary school. I’d read 100 juvenile SF/F books a summer when I was a kid, so when I wasn’t playing baseball or basketball with my neighborhood pals, I was on the couch in the family living room reading like mad.

In fact, my two close friends in the neighborhood (here’s a shout out to Jim Hargis and Bill Astin!) and I would get together on summer mornings and read together, usually in the basement of Bill’s house, as I recall. We read all the Horatio Hornblower books, and all the James Bonds novels, and Tom Corbett, and Rick Brandt, and the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and on and on.

By the time I was in my late twenties I was less enamored of sportswriting and came back to my roots in science fiction. I started writing for fanzines, and then summoned up the courage to apply to Clarion (class of 1978) and got accepted, and within a year or so after that I sold my first short story and there you go. I was busy teaching and working at newspapers, but I did my best to sell a short story every year or two to the magazines or anthologies (including my first sales to Analog in 1981 and 1982 and, later, to Asimov’s in 1988). Now I’ve sold more than fifty short stories to the various magazines and anthologies, including about fifteen to Asimov’s, or a few more if you count some poems.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

RW: At the moment, I’ve just sent in my revisions on the novel Alien Day for Tor Books. It’s the sequel to Alien Morning, which was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of 2016.

I’m also editing an alternate-history anthology for New Word City Press. It will come out as an ebook with a print edition and features reprints of some really great stories by Karen Joy Fowler, Sheila Finch, Eileen Gunn and Michael Swanwick, Kathleen Goonan, Harry Turtledove, Lisa Goldstein, Michaela Roessner, Michael Bishop, Gregory Benford, Rich Larson, Walter Jon Williams, Ben Loory, Nisi Shawl, Louise Marley, Maureen McHugh, Alan Smale, and my own “Something Real.” Great writers all, with stories that have won awards and been in top publications, including a number of them in Asimov’s.

I’ve also just turned in the ebook edition of “The Wandering Warriors” novella that Alan Smale and I were lucky enough to have in Asimov’s in the May/June issue. That, too, will be out from New Word City Press, as will a special edition of all four of the Moe Berg stories.

I try to stay busy.

AE: What are you reading right now?

RW: I’ve just finished reading advance copies of two great books. The first is Steven Erikson’s Rejoice, a Knife to the Heart, which is a deeply thoughtful masterpiece of a first-contact novel that will be out in October, and the other is Gregory Benford’s Rewrite, which is an action-packed look at multiverse theory that features a cast of significant historical figures and an important young man who is trying to save them. In both books you can look for appearances by some of your favorite writers, who are built into the plot in ways that show how science fiction writers can save the world! Terrific stuff, really, in both cases.

At the moment, I’m also reading recent ebook editions of Karen Joy Fowler’s wonderful collection, “Black Glass,” and Eileen Gunn’s ebook edition of “Stable Strategies.” Both collections are amazingly good.

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

RW: Along with my forty-plus years of college teaching, my long career in journalism as a sportswriter, feature writer, reviewer, wire editor, and copy editor for a number of different newspapers taught me a great deal about the basics of writing, and about the potential for effective storytelling. During much of my teaching career I was also working at the local newspaper, and I loved every minute of that work. Newspaper people were and are interesting, very well-informed, deadline-oriented people who care deeply about their work and its importance to a free and informed electorate. I’m very proud of my journalism past.

Oh, and I drove an ice-cream truck as my high-school job. It was summertime in St. Louis and not only was I hot and sweaty, but so were the kids as I drove through the neighborhoods. It’s possible I may have consumed some of my profits, and that bothered my conscience so much that I gave the ice cream away when kids said they didn’t have enough money. I ended up that summer barely breaking even when I settled up with the distributor. Fun summer though.

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

RW: Absolutely! The first thing is to learn what’s been done in the past and what’s being done now, so be a regular reader of high-quality fiction like the stories in Asimov’s and the other major magazines and anthologies. The second thing is to start writing and submitting. My philosophy is aim high, so start by submitting to Asimov’s, though the odds are challenging. The third thing is when you decide you’re dead serious about becoming a science fiction writer, consider applying to one of the great workshops that help early-career writers learn the craft. There are a number of them, including Alpha, Clarion and Clarion West, Taos Toolbox, Odyssey, and others. Ambitious early-career writers should look them up and consider applying to one that’s appropriate for their interests.

And then, if you have your bachelor’s degree and you’re ready for some real immersion, there are a number of excellent genre-fiction MFA programs out there, and several great low-residency programs in genre fiction.

I teach in the genre fiction low-res MFA program at Western State Colorado University, along with Kevin J. Anderson, Michaela Roessner-Herman, Program Director Russell Davis, and Candace Nadon. I think it’s an outstanding program, and I’m in Gunnison, Colorado, teaching a two-week residency as I write this.

Another excellent low-res MFA that caters to science fiction and fantasy writers is the Stonecoast MFA at the University of Southern Maine, where students might get the chance to work with writers like Elizabeth Hand, Theodora Goss, James Patrick Kelly (who’s a regular presence in Asimov’s), and Nancy Holder, among others.

These low-residency programs have you learning the craft with online courses from top instructors who are also well-published professionals, and then meeting those instructors once or twice a year face to face in one-week or two-week residencies.

 

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

RW: I try to have an active presence on a few social media sites, though it’s always hard balancing social media time with real-world writing time. But I’d be delighted to see some readers follow or friend me on Facebook, or Twitter, and I do a decent job of keeping my own website up to date. So here’s that short list:

www.rickwilber.net,

https://www.facebook.com/Rick.Wilber

https://twitter.com/WilberSFWriter


Rick Wilber has published some fifty short stories, fifteen of them in Asimov’s. “The Secret City” continues his alternate-history exploration of the dangerous lure of American fascism during World War II, seen through the eyes of a fictional version of the famous baseball player turned spy, Moe Berg. An earlier Moe Berg story, “Something Real,” won the Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History – Short Form in 2012, and Locus Magazine reviewer Lois Tilton called Rick “a master of historical fantasy set in this era.” Most recently his co-authored alternate-history novella, “The Wandering Warriors,” was the cover story for Asimov’s May/June 2018 issue, and the novelette, “In Dublin, Fair City,” appeared in the November/December 2017 issue.

Rick is the editor of the anthology, “Making History: Classic Alternate History Stories” (New Word City, 2018), which features reprinted classic stories from Karen Joy Fowler, Kathleen Goonan, Lisa Goldstein, Harry Turtledove, Walter Jon Williams, Gregory Benford, Eileen Gunn, and Michael Swanwick, and many more. A number of the stories first appeared in Asimov’s.

Rick’s most recent novel Alien Morning (Tor, 2016) was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year. The sequel, Alien Day, will be out in 2019. Rick is an assistant visiting professor of creative writing at Western State Colorado University’s low-residency MFA program in genre writing. Rick is the administrator, co-founder, and co-judge with Asimov’s Editor Sheila Williams of the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Eight Inspirations for “The Witch of Osborne Park”

by Stephanie Feldman

  1. In Pennsylvania, barns and homes are often decorated with “hex signs,” or decorative symbols with Pennsylvania Dutch symbolism. Stars are especially popular. You can buy them at Home Depot. “Hex” can also refer to witchcraft. The two types of hex-craft are not related, but what if they were? What if witchcraft charms were available at big box stores?
  2. In mammals, fetal cells migrate into the mother’s body. The maternal immune system eliminates many of these cells, but some integrate into the host tissue, where they may remain for decades, or even permanently. This makes mothers “micro chimeras,” organisms with distinct sets of genetic material. Little is known about the impact on mothers, or the evolutionary value of such a phenomenon.
  3. Horror relies on the uncanny or “unheimlich”—the unhomely—when the familiar becomes unfamiliar. The haunted house may be a metaphor for society or the family, which contains a traumatic and irrepressible secret. Or the haunted house may be a metaphor for the mind itself: the ghosts come from the basement, or the attic, the murky places inside you where things grow undisturbed.
  4. One morning I found a trail of white, kidney-bean shaped prints on my driveway. They were the size of a child’s shoe and had appeared overnight. I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone small and invisible was circling me—footprints on the asphalt, footprints invisible in the ivy.
  5. In The Crucible, Goody Osborne is one of the first to be accused of witchcraft. She served as Mrs. Putnam’s midwife, and delivered three stillborn babies. Mrs. Putnam is certain that Goody Osborne—not nature, not God, not herself—is to blame.
  6. If you arrive in our suburban town by train, you will pass a planned townhouse community under construction. If you continue further, you will also find eighteenth-century farmhouses, a preserved wetland, several chain pharmacies, and an estate that was once a station on the Underground Railroad. The signs for the developments and stores are large and bright. The date plaques and historical markers are smaller, paler. The past is there—it’s right there—and yet somehow your eye slips over it.
  7. On a lark, I decided to smudge my new house. I lit a bundle of stage on the gas stovetop, and my four-year-old put her hands on my wrists as we waved it around the house. “Tell the bad things to go,” I said. It was a game. The sage extinguished on the top floor landing, again and again, though I couldn’t detect a draft.
  8. Our neighborhood has a Halloween children’s parade. The kids assemble in their superhero and princess costumes and walk two blocks together. At the end we have pizza. It’s not very scary at all. I am always disappointed.

My Face 1 STEPHANIE FELDMAN.jpgStephanie Feldman is the author of the novel The Angel of Losses (Ecco), a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, winner of the Crawford Fantasy Award, and finalist for the Mythopoeic Award, and is the co-editor of the multi-genre anthology Who Will Speak for America? (Temple University Press). Her stories and essays have appeared in Asimov’s, Electric Literature, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Maine Review, The Rumpus, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

 

Q&A with Doug Souza

Doug Souza is back in the current Asimov’s issue—on sale now—with his tale of derring-do. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about the story and his writing in general.


 

Asimov’s Editors: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

Doug Souza: The first nugget came from wanting to set a story on one of the moons or dwarf planets within our solar system. Since the human body isn’t designed for micro-gravity, that’s always a problem. A friend of mine and I brainstormed some ideas on how to adapt the human body, and nanos came up. I started several versions of the story, and then found that the nanos were the most interesting protagonists since they had the toughest struggle. Then the thought struck me of how much tougher their job would be if their host didn’t care much for his own life.

I hadn’t read a story from the nanos’ POV, so I was stoked to write one. I’m sure I’ll get some emails listing titles of stories with this same idea, but honestly, it was original to me at the time. There are some great stories out there where the AI—whether in a fighter jet or interwebs—ends up making the moral choice in contrast to their human counterpart. As an optimist, this gives me hope that maybe the AI being developed will aid and guide humankind rather than travel back in time to terminate us.


I feel I chiseled my way into writing, rather than breaking in. Not to downplay where I’m at now, I’m super-stoked to have my stories published at the various venues and on podcasts, but it wasn’t an overnight thing.


AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?

DS: The main character is highly intelligent like my brother. Growing up two years younger than a genius is quite a unique experience. There was a shadow, but it wasn’t darkened with “You can’t do this . . .” or “You’ll never be able to . . .” Instead, my brother was always showing me how to do things with the expectation that I’d be able to grasp concepts with his guidance. Thank goodness my parents were good at homing in on each of their kids’ talents and focusing on that. I didn’t have that BS of, “He can, so why can’t you?”

Continue reading “Q&A with Doug Souza”