Kofi Nyameye appears in our pages for the first time in the March/April issue [one sale now] with his short story “The Lights Go Out, One by One.” Here he describes how the tale expanded from its original version, his endless fascination with people, his writing process, and much more.
Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
KN: I wrote a very early form of this story about five years ago. It was barely over a thousand words long, but the germ of the idea was there. Deep down I knew there was more to the story than what I’d written, but I felt too lazy to put in the work required to expand it, so I put the story away and moved on to something else.
Three years later I showed that draft to my mentor, Geoff Ryman. After reading it he also believed there was a bigger story in there than what I’d written, and encouraged me to return to it, see what I’d find.
The Lights Go Out is what I found.
AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
KN: The image that grew into this story popped into my head one day while I was doing some meaningless task I no longer remember. I saw two people on the outside of a spaceship, trying desperately to repair a fault while their ship spun wildly out of control. The image hooked me at once. I knew I had to find out what was going on there.
The irony of it is that scene didn’t even make it into the final piece. The more I thought about those spacemen, the more their mission, rather than their ship, became the focus of the story.
The core of the story came to me pretty quickly; the details came slowly as I wrote.
AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
KN: I like to tell myself sometimes that all my stories (even the unwritten ones) are part of one big universe, but that would mean the characters in this story share a reality with inept sorcerers and cross-galactic wars and runaway stars and a house filled with broken dreams and a bank that stores human memories and worlds cursed by eternal night and a god who slept through the destruction of the dinosaurs.
So, no. I’m afraid The Lights Go Out is a stand-alone.
AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
KN: As a writer of speculative fiction (and not just SF), my greatest influences have been Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Stephen King was the first writer who taught me it’s okay for a story to have a dark ending, that not every tale ends with a happily ever after, that sometimes the monsters win and that’s okay.
Neil Gaiman taught me the value of wonder in a story—that every story, no matter how grounded in reality, can include something so out of the ordinary that it makes us look at our world differently.
Aside from them, books in general—just good stories—have never failed to inspire me.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
KN: Death is a big thing in my work. Just the general temporality of people and civilizations and ideas and things, you know? I also find myself writing a lot about the dysfunctions of people. We don’t always do what we know we should, but that’s not always a bad thing. (Often it is, but not always.)
I don’t think I’ve ever written a story where the external events were the main point of the tale (and if I have written one, it’s probably not very good). Mostly I use external events to examine human nature and see what I find there.
People fascinate me.
AE: What is your process?
KN: Usually I’ll get an idea, let it bounce around in my head for some time, and if after that it still demands to be written, I’ll sit down and let the story take me where it will. The only thing I can truly claim control over is walking into the room and shutting the door; the rest shows up once I’m there. If you pointed to something in my stories and asked me how I came up with it, the best answer I could give you would be: “It just felt like it belonged there.”
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
KN: In addition to a couple of short stories, I’m putting the finishing touches to a novel about a boy who gains supernatural abilities after falling into an alternate universe, and who must now learn to either master his power or be consumed by it.
AE: What are you reading right now?
KN: In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
KN: Trust your story. (And be a little crazy. It helps.)
AE: What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?
KN: I happen to be a two-time university dropout. Both times it was because the things I was studying were honorable and respectable and employable but had absolutely nothing to do with what I wanted to do with my life, which was discovering stories and telling them, so I left. It drives my parents crazy to this day.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
KN: I fell out of love with the internet (particularly social media) a couple of years ago, so I don’t post much, but you can hit me up on Twitter: @KofiNyameye.