Mary Robinette Kowal is back in our current issue with her new story “Artisanal Trucking, LLC,” which she says started as a “gee whiz” idea and expanded from there. She also talks past jobs and future books.
For more about her process, see this companion post, but be warned: spoilers reside within.
Asimov’s Editors: What is the story behind this piece?
Mary Robinette Kowal: I was at a conference in a round table discussion talking about automation and privilege. At some point, we were talking about how knitting, which used to be a necessary thing, became automated with knitting machines and now it is a luxury art. It’s expensive to buy wool. It takes time and leisure to make a garment. I said, “I imagine the hipsters of the future will totally do artisanal trucking.” I had more of a point but stopped talking as Story stampeded through my brain.
AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
MRK: The conference gave me the “gee whiz” idea. But I wound up developing it as part of a Short Story Intensive that I was teaching. In the class, I always take a gee whiz idea and demonstrate how you can explore it to find a story. I worked through that and liked what I was coming up with. Interestingly, the character’s name, “Dude,” was originally a placeholder in my notes. But I thought it worked for him so I kept it.
AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this story?
MRK: I always love the SF that Sheila chooses for Asimov’s because it explores an SFnal concept but always centers on character. The story of a dude, his dog, and an AI truck just seemed like a natural fit.
AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
MRK: They impact me quite a lot, sometimes by shaping the things I’m thinking about while I’m writing and sometimes by distracting me from writing. I think this happens with most fiction, but science fiction makes it very easy to spot the effects of current events from the Atomic era science fiction to Cyberpunk. I enjoy the fact that our field allows us to extrapolate and imagine futures.
AE: How do you deal with writer’s block?
MRK: I recognize that writer’s block is a feature, not a bug. Unless it is caused by external factors like depression, illness, or a giant life event, writer’s block is an indication that something is wrong with the story. For instance, if I find myself getting drowsy when I sit down to write, that’s probably an indication that my story is dull. So I back up to the last point that excited me and make a different choice. If I’m restless, that often means that the next scene is hard, and I’m trying to escape writing it. By “hard” I mean, I’m approaching a tense scene for your character and/or one that will be difficult to write well. This one, I just have to power through. But really, in all of these, it’s about interrogating my own reaction and trusting myself as a reader.
AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
MRK: Teleportation. If I didn’t have to spend so much time in transit, I would get to see a lot of my friends more often. It would be easier to go places for research.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
MRK: My first two science fiction novels, which are coming out back to back this summer. Calculating Stars and Fated Sky are set in the 1950s and begin about two minutes before an asteroid slams into Washington D.C., kicking off the space program early and fast. They are extensions of my Lady Astronaut of Mars novelette.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
MRK: Stop thinking of yourself as a wannabe or as an aspiring writer. If you are writing, then you are a writer. You might not be an author yet, because that requires publication, but you’re a writer. There’s no shame in being early in your career. There’s no shame in writing just because you love it. You are a writer.
AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
MRK: I spent twenty some years as a professional puppeteer. It affects pretty much every aspect of my fiction. One of the things that it has done in terms of influencing the way that I write, is that I tend to be aware of my audience and that my job is to shape the emotions of an audience. That’s what I did in theatre, that’s what I’m doing as a writer.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?