Q&A with Leslie J. Anderson

Leslie J. Anderson’s writing process is a self-described mess, involving lots of editing and lots of ideas bouncing around at once, but we here at Asimov’s always love the end result—the most recent being her poem, “Tell Me What the Stars Sing,” in our July/August issue [on sale now].

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

LA: I was reading Scott Kelly’s Endurance and was struck by how matter-of-fact he is about the stranger parts of space, such as random bits of radiation causing hallucinations as he was trying to sleep. I started experimenting with his calm, direct voice, imagining how he would interact with more fantastic elements of space travel, monsters, and aliens and the like. I enjoyed inhabiting a speaker who saw the obvious danger as simply part of the beauty and wonder inherent in space travel.

AE: Is this poem part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?

LA: I think this poem is actually the intersection of a lot of my poems and short stories. When I was an undergrad, I had the terrifying experience of studying under the poet Diane Wakoski. One of the things she impressed on me is that writers often have what she called a “personal mythology.” Themes and images show up again and again in most writers’ works because we just can’t let them go. They haunt and inspire us. Space travel is definitely one of mine, as are sirens, for similar reasons. I am a little in awe of those who would face a massive amount of danger and trials to gain just a little more knowledge—a little more understanding. The draw, for them, is difficult if not impossible to resist.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?

LA: My earliest inspirations were T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, but more recently I find my work inspired and driven by Jeff Vandermere, Joy Harjo, Hanif Abdurraqub, and N. K. Jemisin, especially her Broken Earth trilogy. Outside of books it will probably surprise none that I’m a giant nerd. I grew up with Evangelion, FLCL, and Pokémon. That probably did interesting things to my developing mind.

AE: What is your process?

LA: My process is a gosh darn mess followed by extensive editing. I have dozens of files that are just lines and thoughts and snippets and some of those seeds eventually grow into poems or stories or novels. When I write prose, I never write linearly. I’ll have dozens of paragraphs that will, eventually, fit together in a finished product. I also tend to overwrite, and end up deleting a lot (or more likely moving it to a different file to save for something else). Several other writers, upon seeing my process, have shaken their heads in dismay, but it works for me!

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

LA: I don’t suffer from writers’ block often. If anything, I have trouble picking which idea I’m going to spend time with. I sometimes get stuck on an individual piece and I find that my willingness to delete, even delete a lot, keeps me from getting stuck. Sometimes you have to be willing to write garbage just to get that garbage out of your head and make room for better words. More often than not, after a few lines of garbage, I’m in the rhythm again and coming up with something better. It’s incredibly difficult, but I’ve found the best cure for writers’ block is just to start writing. Be confident that you can make it perfect later. Perfection isn’t the initial goal.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

LA: I’m currently shopping a poetry manuscript to publishers and a novel to agents. I’m nearly done with another novel about horses and monsters and horse monsters. I’m also currently pregnant, but that project mostly involves eating, napping, and occasionally throwing up.

AE: What are you reading right now?

LA: I’ve been on a nonfiction kick lately! I loved Welcome to the Goddamn Icecube by Blair Braverman, who recently finished the Iditarod. I also really enjoyed Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. I have a thing for stories about grifters. On the fiction side, I’m making my way through Circe by Madeline Miller. The language and imagery is enchanting, and I always love a new look at old myths.

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

LA: I’ve had a lot of careers and currently keep a day job as a marketing manager for a financial consulting firm. I sell spreadsheets. I’ve also trained and rehabilitated horses, sold video games to angry parents (one of them threw an Xbox at my head), and taught English and literature at a university. Mostly my day jobs have kept me fed and my laptop charged, but they also mean I interact with a lot of odd people who wander into my poems and stories. Specific skills, like training horses, often show up in my writing simply because they’ve colored how I view the world, and provided an interesting perspective I want to share with an audience.

AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?

LA: There are a lot of very exciting answers, but honestly just put me in Star Trek. It has its problems, but it seems pretty utopian for most humans. Catch me on the holodeck with a mimosa and a good book.

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

LA: You can find me on Twitter @inkhat, or on my website LeslieJAnderson.com. You can also find my first poetry book Inheritance of Stone on Amazon!

Leslie J. Anderson’s writing has appeared in Asimov’s, Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and Apex, to name a few. Her collection of poetry, An Inheritance of Stone, was nominated for an Elgin Award. Poems from the collection have won 2nd place in the Asimov’s Readers’ Awards, and were nominated for Pushcart and Rhysling awards. She lives in a small, white house beside a cemetery with three good dogs and a Roomba.

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