Q&A with Jenny Blackford

Jenny Blackford is new to the pages of Asimov’s, so we asked her to introduce herself—and her muse Felix!—to our readers. You can find her poem “Quantum String” in our May/June issue [on sale now].

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

Jenny Blackford: My Ragdoll cat Felix is, as we Aussies are known to say, not the brightest crayon in the box. Maybe there’s even a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock. He’s distinctly middle-aged now, but there are many aspects of being a cat that he still hasn’t mastered—climbing, for example, and not falling off things, and sitting in cardboard boxes. One winter night he aced two of those three skills, first sitting in an empty cardboard box, then lying precariously on a chair and Not Falling Off. This achievement obviously required assistance from the Great Felinity.

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

JB: Usually, Felix avoids boxes—even to the point of leaving the room if I try to encourage him to sit or play in one. He’s a scaredy-cat, and boxes evidently partake of the terrifying nature of Almost Everything in the World. One cold evening, though, as I was sitting knitting with an empty cardboard box at my feet (presumably I had unpacked something from it earlier that evening) Felix sniffed at the box and settled into it for long enough for me to take photos rejoicing in his new accomplishment. All too soon, however, he decided the box was far too dangerous, and retreated to a chair on which I’d previously dumped all sorts of cushions and wraps, leaving only a slender ledge of bare wicker. Felix arranged himself along the precarious perch, and I waited for him to fall off. Mirabile dictu, it didn’t happen!

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

JB: I’m clumsy and nervy. I can absolutely relate to a fear of enclosed spaces, and a tendency to fall off ledges.

AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this poem?

JB: Asimov’s was clearly the best possible home for a science-fictional cat poem!

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

JB: I’m not a crazy cat lady. Honestly. I only have one cat, though he’s the most beautiful feline in the Universe. But I have to admit that quite a few of my poems and stories do mention cats. My other regular themes include Ancient Greek life, especially for ordinary women; ancient mythological beasts; and slightly obscure regions of ancient mythology.

AE: What is your process?

JB: Odd strings of words or phrases bubble up in my mind whether I want them to or not. If I manage to write them down, sometimes they turn into poems, or even stories. The beginning might be a sudden flash of inspiration, but I revise and revise and revise, sometimes for months.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

JB: I’m writing a novel based on the turbulent life of Bronze Age princess Medea, who did all the work that Jason the Argonaut got credit for.

AE: What are you reading right now?

JB: I’ve just finished Richard Glover’s The Land Before Avocado, in which he proves pretty conclusively that life in Australia is better now in most ways than it was in the ’60s and ’70s. I remember the time before butternut pumpkin and hummus all too well! My next reading delight will be either Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Moon or Phillip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage. Literary riches! I also read poetry every day, mostly online. I can spend hours just following links from social media to a whole range of great poetry—much of it spec oriented, because so many of my online friends are spec fic readers and enthusiasts.

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

JB: My university degree was in Classics (Greek and Latin), and over the years I’ve read far too much about the ancient world! I often write stories and poetry set in my favorite times and places, especially areas of Bronze Age Greece. It was the time of the earlier strands that went into the mix that made up the Iliad, the Odyssey, and some of the most popular myths. Think about Theseus traveling from Athens to the mighty Bronze Age Minoan civilization on Crete, or Jason sailing to the end of the Black Sea in search of golden treasure (even if Hera forced poor Medea to provide the brains and sorcery on his perilous way home).

My twenty years as a specialist in mainframe computer networking makes me less likely to write about the future marvels of AI, and more inclined to fear, roughly equally, both Skynet and catastrophic AI crashes.

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

JB: I’m on Twitter as @dutiesofacat and on Facebook as jennyblackford. My website is www.jennyblackford.com.

Jenny Blackford lives in Newcastle, Australia. Her poems and stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Cosmos Magazine, The Pedestal Magazine and more. Award-winning Australian imprint Pitt Street Poetry published an illustrated pamphlet of her cat poems, The Duties of a Cat, in 2013, and her first full-length poetry book, The Loyalty of Chickens, in 2017. The legendary Pamela Sargent called her subversively feminist historical novella set in ancient Greece, The Priestess and the Slave, “elegant.”

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