Q&A with Lawrence Watt-Evans

It may have taken thirty years, but we’re thrilled to publish the intended follow-up to “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers,” which was featured in the July 1987 issue of Asimov’s. Below, author Lawrence Watt-Evans describes its journey to our pages as well as his own within the writing profession.

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

LWE: The story behind the story: Back in 1987 I made my first sale to a major science fiction magazine, when Asimov’s bought “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers.” I was thrilled, and wanted to find a way to exploit this opening.

It immediately occurred to me that I could use Harry’s as the setting for other stories. I came up with several premises, and started writing five of them. The most ambitious was called “How I Found Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers,” and it was intended as a pretty direct follow-up.

But the only one I finished in anything like a reasonable time frame was “A Flying Saucer with Minnesota Plates.”

But then, early in 2018, Warner Brothers optioned a script based on “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers,” and my interest was suddenly renewed. This time I did complete “How I Found Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers.” Naturally, I sent it to the same place I’d sent the first two, and they bought it—my first sale to Asimov’s in over twenty years. Also my first submission there in over twenty years.

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?

LWE: While outside events may prompt a story idea, or coax me into continuing an old one I’d put aside, I don’t think current events influence the actual stories very much—after all, I started this story thirty years ago, and here it is, pretty much unchanged from my original plans.

AE: What inspired you to start writing?

LWE: I started writing when I was eight because I loved making up stories, and my second-grade teacher praised my very first writing assignment and said, “Maybe you’ll be a writer someday!” I thought that sounded like a great idea, and here I am.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

LWE: These days I write whatever I feel like, without much concern for the marketplace, so I’m currently writing a series of adventure stories inspired by books I read as a kid, the Tom Derringer series. The first, Tom Derringer and the Aluminum Airship, came out in 2014, and I’m midway through the third, Tom Derringer and the Steam-Powered Saurians. At least three more are planned.

AE: What are you reading right now?

LWE: I’m not trying to keep up with the SF/fantasy field; the book I’m in the middle of reading right now is Bill Bryson’s Made in America, nonfiction about the history of American English.

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?

LWE: Advice for would-be writers: make sure you know why you’re writing. If you want to be rich and famous, writing isn’t the way to get there. If you want to impress people, forget it—it mostly doesn’t impress anyone. Everyone thinks they can write. You should only try to write if you’re madly in love with storytelling.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

LWE: I’m active on Facebook and Twitter; I’m @wattevans on Twitter. I also have my own website at http://www.watt-evans.com, and send out a short e-mail newsletter every month or so.

Lawrence Watt-Evans has been a full-time writer since 1979, with about fifty novels and one hundred fifty short stories to his credit, but it wasn’t until 1987, when Gardner Dozois bought “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers,” that he got a story into an actual science fiction magazine. It was revised to Gardner’s specifications and went on to win the short story Hugo and other awards; without those revisions, who knows how it would have done? In the interests of keeping his Hugo acceptance speech brief, Lawrence failed to thank Gardner, and he’s regretted that omission ever since.cheeseburger-820178_1920.jpg

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