Q&A with Alexandra Renwick

Alexandra Renwick makes her Asimov’s debut with her short story “Because Reasons” [in our current issue]. Here, she discusses her inspirations and writing style, admitting that she’s often struggling with the same “Truths” as her characters.

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

AR: Until asked this question, I don’t think I realized the range of concerns this story’s unconventional narrative structure let me cram in here. Usually characters move in some way—physical, metaphorical, metaphysical, whateverical—from one place to another. There’s an arc, right? But in “Because Reasons” that arc already exists. It unfolds in a series of “Truths” set forth by the narrator, freeing me up to play with a slew of different notions without wondering how they fit into the action. Several close friends of mine died in rapid succession a couple years ago, and I guess I’d been thinking about the things you might never get to say to people who irrevocably disappear from your life. Sometimes very important people.

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

AR: I’ve been craving more adventurous fashion choices in the general populace. Also, I love lists. Lists get my brain all juicy, and this story is basically an epistolary list. With fashion directives. And space colonization.

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

AR: I’m an immersion writer—I relate to everything in my stories! Tin cans! Stray cats! Broken furniture! Detached prosthetic limbs! Wadded-up love letters!

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

AR: In a private group email, a prominent member of the SF community once behaved quite badly, justifying the behavior only with, “because reasons.” Of course it shut down discussion (as intended), but I kept wondering what it would be like to turn this self-serving (and very useful!) shutdown phrase into something else, an opportunity for clarification, explanation, emotional exploration instead of the opposite.

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

AR: Absolutely, though I don’t like to analyze my own work too closely (because reasons). I’m at heart not so much a contrarian or skeptic as I am a questioner; I’m always questioning what it means to be valued or beautiful, to be human, to be alive. Reading my own stories I can see characters grappling with the same Truths I do. They make mistakes. They face death and loss. They try to find joy and connection and meaning, and they try to forgive themselves when they don’t.

AE: What is your process?

AR: Immersion. When I’m tapped into writing it’s like breathing with a different set of lungs than the ones I usually use. I see action unfolding and my fingers can barely keep up with typing it down as quickly as it happens. Stories often veer off into side alleys I didn’t see coming. Sometimes those alleys are darker than others. I’m happy to think “Because Reasons” works out well for my protagonist, leading the narrator to some healing Truths.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

AR: Short stories, always. A novel or two. I’ve been asked to edit an anthology about robots and AI and have been super excited about choosing a co-editor, anticipating putting that all together. Canadian writer/editor Claude Lalumière has an interesting series in the works where he collaborates with different visual artists and he’s invited me to be the artist for one of these. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with my visual art roots and seeing where that takes me.

AE: What are you reading right now?

AR: My local library (Hey Ottawa!) has an express reads shelf, and I’ve embraced the randomness of grabbing a book I know nothing about alongside my usual picks for the week. This has lead me to read books like Michael Finkel’s The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit and My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent alongside whatever I’d come to pick up, like Richard Hell’s I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp and Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam series. I’ve sought out some excellent Canlit recently (being half Canadian and all), particularly enjoying Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals. As a current juror for the Sunburst Award for Short Fiction, at this exact moment I’m consumed with reading hundreds of 2017 short stories written by Canadians from all over the world. I haven’t worked my way through everything yet, but it’s been incredible.

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

AR: I had a jubilantly misspent youth, weaseling my way into as many punk clubs and shows as I could without any money or ID. That bit in “Because Reasons” about setting your spikes with egg whites may or may not have been drawn from direct empirical evidence.

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

AR: After college, my pre-writing life was consumed with owning, running, and stocking a kickass little vintage store in Austin, Texas. I spent hours and days and weeks driving thousands of miles, scouring flea markets and roadside stands and rural thrift stores for cool junk to resell in my shop. I tell people it left me with an overdeveloped sympathy for wayward objects. That’s where my characters often find themselves at some point: just another chunk of flotsam on the tides of the Universe, looking for a landing spot to call home.

Alexandra Renwick’s fiction has been translated into nine languages and adapted to stage and audio. Born in Los Angeles but raised in Philadelphia, Yorkshire, Denmark, Toronto, and Texas, she currently splits her time between an urban swamp in Austin and a crumbling historic manor in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa. More at alexcrenwick.com.


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