Author Leah Cypess mined her experiences with parenting and social media to give us her latest work of fiction in our current issue on sale now. Here, she explains the story’s beginnings and how it fits in with her writing on a certain theme.
Asimov’s Editor: “Attachment Unavailable” is such a fun story to read—was it equally fun to write?
LC: Oh, yes. This was one of the most fun stories I’ve ever written—I kept giggling as I was working on it.
AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly (perhaps after time on parenting groups)?
LC: Good guess! I think the answer is all of the above. In the beginning, this wasn’t a story. I read a Facebook exchange among some friends of mine, commenting on a parenting article, and it irritated me enough to make me write a little parody. I posted it; it went over well with my friends, and then I moved on and forgot about it.
Years later, I created a PDF of my Facebook history, for the purpose of creating a scrapbook of my kids’ funny comments. While going through the PDF, I came across that parody and thought, “I should do something more with this . . .” and then wrote the rough draft of the story in less than an hour.
I spent a lot of time fine-tuning it, of course, but the most time-consuming part of writing this story was figuring out how to format it; the process required me to keep checking Facebook, which was definitely not the most efficient way to get a story ready for submission.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
LC: A lot of Asimov’s readers have probably noticed that parenting and/or children play a large role in many of my stories. In fact, I had been submitting to Asimov’s for many years, but the very first story that got me encouragement from Asimov’s (in the form of a handwritten “send me more!” note on a rejection slip) was a story I wrote when my first child was about six months old, and involved a young mother. Being a parent is, obviously, a large part of my identity and of how I spend many of my waking (and should-be-sleeping) hours. For the majority of my writing career so far, I’ve had a baby or toddler who was home with me full time, so it’s not surprising that my life as a parent seeps into my fiction.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
LC: I deal with writers’ block by working on more than one project at a time—usually, I’m juggling five or six. When I’m stuck on one, I move on to another. This has worked really well for me, though it does have the side effect of my sometimes having nothing to send out into the world, and sometimes having five stories at once to play submission Tetris with.
Breaking into the novel world has played a bit of havoc with process, since you can’t let a project sit for months when you’re writing on a deadline. I’ve learned that I write much better when NOT on deadline, and try to do that as often as possible. But even when I’m forced to stick to one project because I’m on a timetable, I find that taking short breaks is extremely beneficial.
AE: What are you reading right now?
LC: Right now I’m re-reading The Killer’s Cousin by Nancy Werlin, a YA thriller that I read years ago—I remember that I loved it, but not any of the details of what happens in it, so it’s a guaranteed good read, which is a nice thing to have! Next up is In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant, a historical novel set in 16th-century Italy. In nonfiction, I’m reading Empress of the East by Leslie Peirce, the true and fascinating tale of a slave girl who became empress of the Ottoman Empire, and The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
LC: Lots, but I’m going to reiterate a previous response I gave to this: be wary of advice. The writing world, and the internet portion of it especially, is full of great advice for writers. But the important thing to remember is that it is all advice that worked for the person giving it. Writing is, by its very nature, one of the most individualistic endeavors there is; without closing yourself off to the possibility of good advice, you have to do it in the way that works for you. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong just because they do it differently. Or even because 99% of the writers in the world are doing it differently. It’s the outcome that matters, not how you get there. In the words of A.J. Liebling: “The only way to write is well and how you do it is your own damn business.”
AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
LC: I was briefly a lawyer, and I would say I learned two main things from that experience that carried over into my writing career. One is that it is always possible to cut a piece of writing down to the required word limit. (We were told at my first job that if your brief exceeded their maximum page count, some judges would simply rip off the extra pages and never read them.) The other is that, since law is an extremely demanding career, I gained a new understanding of how many working hours there are in a day.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
LC: My website is at http://www.leahcypess.com, and my twitter (which I keep mostly writing-related) is @LeahCypess. My books have Facebook pages, but I’m pretty sure Facebook doesn’t let anyone see my posts there, since I never pay to boost them; but I’m happy to have more friends on my regular page, if you let me know why you’re there!