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.
AE: What inspired you to start writing?
JL: I’ve always been a storyteller, starting with playing “pretend” when I was small. My youngest sibling is eight years younger than I am, so I had someone who wanted to play “make believe” long after most of my contemporaries had given up on it.
Although I noodled around with writing fiction before, I began writing in a systematic fashion when I was in college, mostly for myself. The big transition was learning how to take the more fluid form of oral storytelling, where you can adapt to your audience’s reaction, and learning how to find fixed words that would communicate the images to a broader audience.
AE: How did you break into writing?
JL: Very slowly. After I finished grad school, I decided to take the time that I’d been putting into writing my dissertation into writing fiction and trying to sell it. Shortly thereafter, I attended my first SF con, met Roger Zelazny, and began to realize there was a community out there that I’d been completely unaware of.
Small side note here: Roger is frequently referred to as my “mentor.” When it came to learning the business side, this is absolutely true. However, after Roger read some of my earlier works, he felt I “had it,” as he put it. Although we intensely discussed writing as a craft, he never once reviewed or line-edited or even made a specific suggestion about any of my stories, because he said he didn’t want to turn me into a “cut-rate Roger Zelazny.” His faith that I had stories of my own to tell encouraged me as I racked up a truly phenomenal number of rejection letters.
AE: What is your process?
JL: People like to talk about writers as “outliners” or “intuitive.” (I’ve also heard the terms “architects” and “gardeners,” or “pantsers” and “plotters.”)
Of course, few writers are one or the other. It’s more a sliding scale. However, on that sliding scale, I’m way over on the intuitive side. I daydream and conjecture. Eventually, I get this sharp “ping” in my soul that tells me the story is ready to be written, and I write.
Does this mean I don’t research? Not at all. I research obsessively. Years ago, when I was keynote speaker at a science conference, I was looking at the poster presentations. One PhD candidate had done her work on wolves. I eagerly read her bibliography, thinking I’d pick up a few new works to add to my collection. However, except for a few very specialized biology works, I’d read all of them.
AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
JL: I started with babysitting. Don’t scoff. If you can think of another job that lets you walk into alternate realities in a more intimate fashion, I don’t know it. I fed babies and changed their diapers. Broke up fights. Fed kids (and learned what a wide variety of things are considered acceptable foods). Learned that rules vary from household to household. Then, when the kids were in bed, I read—often from the books in the house.
I started working summers pretty much as soon as I could get a permit. I tried (and hated) restaurant work, so shifted to office work. Through college, I worked for the Small Business Administration, which is where I was tossed into the realm of then-cutting-edge word processors and computers.
My only “grown-up” job was teaching college English, first as a grad assistant, then as an adjunct, later as an assistant professor. As a writer of fiction, I had to learn that the things English professors love about stories (cryptic symbolism, obscure endings) are the things most readers hate.
However, the “job” that influenced me the most as a writer was one I fear kids today don’t get enough of a chance to try. I was left a fair amount of time—especially in summers—to do what, to adults, probably looked like “nothing.” I read. I swam. I caught blue crabs and fished. I built lean-tos in the woods. I rode my bike (and imagined it was a horse). I had time to dream. That “job” more than any other made me a writer.
AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
JL: Larry Niven’s Known Space. There are so very many reasons. Cool ideas made concrete, but aren’t limited to the science buzz of the moment. Terrifically designed aliens that are psychologically grounded from point of evolution forward. Jobs that aren’t in the military or politics. For the longest time, I wanted to be an asteroid miner with a singleship and a custom vac suit.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
JL: Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need to know your craft. I’ve met too many would-be writers who think that grammar and punctuation are things that the editor will do for you. Writing is communication. Every fumbled bit of punctuation, every wrong word (and in these days of auto-correct functions, those are easier than ever to have happen), gets between the reader and your story.
“Write what you know” applies to science fiction and fantasy as much as to “realistic” fiction—even more so, perhaps, since the reader doesn’t automatically share that reality with you. If they can’t believe your horses, they won’t believe your dragons. Strive to know as much as you can about your topic, then extrapolate.
AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
JL: Some form of rapid transportation like Larry Niven’s “stepping disks.” That way I could go to lots of places, visit with distant friends, and still be home in time to medicate the cats.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
JL: My most recent novel is Asphodel, a magical realism piece heavily indebted to my love of myth and legend. I’ll be the first to admit, it’s an odd novel, but to my delight a widely varied audience has found the tale “works” for them.
I’m in the middle of writing the first new Firekeeper novel in about ten years. It’s called Wolf’s Search. When that’s done, I have a 150,000-word manuscript that I want to go back to. I’m rarely short of ideas, only of time and energy!
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing? (IE: Social media handles, website URL . . .)
JL: My website www.janelindskold.com contains links to my social media. I have a blog to which I post three times a week. The Wednesday Wanderings are whatever occurs to me; the Thursday Tangents are in collaboration with New Zealander Alan Robson; the Friday Fragments lists whatever I’m reading that week.
I am active on Twitter (@janelindskold) and Facebook (sign up for the professional page; it’s the one I always check).