Q&A with Brittany Hause

An image of the Archaeopteryx fossil found in Berlin made a lasting impression on Brittany Hause when they were a child. Years later and inspired by that image, Brittany’s poem “billets-doux” [on sale now in our current issue] has made a lasting impression on us. Read on for a more in-depth look at the inspiration for “billets-doux” and to learn about Brittany’s works in progress.


Asimov’s Editor: How did this poem germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

BH: The first image sketched out in “billets-doux”—the establishing shot, I suppose—was also the first element of the poem to come to me. For a few days, that was all I had of the story that would later tell itself with little effort on my part: a static vision of the crisp, unmistakeable lines of a modern shoeprint pressed into rock alongside the equally unmistakeable contours of a pre-Cenozoic fossil. That said fossil happened to be Archaeopteryx, specifically, is unsurprising—pictures I saw in childhood of the famous full-skeleton specimen found in Berlin, the ur-bird with its head thrown back and limbs spasming out in a weird forever-dance, made an impression (pun intended) that’s never quite left me.

I let this anachronistic tableau rattle wordlessly around in my head for a while before I put it to paper. When I did finally scribble the idea down, it seemed to take the form of a three-line poem of its own accord.

At first pass, I considered that to be the finished product: a standalone haiku-like sci-fi piece (what many call “scifaiku”). But then some photos I’d seen years before in an art history textbook suddenly swam to mind—the stark shapes of ancient human hands with fingers outspread, empty spaces outlined in red and black on the cavern walls of Pech Merle, and I thought: It’s not an accident—it’s a message. I wrote the rest of the poem in the same sitting.

I’m a plodding sort of writer, generally. Fiction pieces, especially—whether poetry or prose—are in most cases only wrung out of my system in tiny, disordered fragments jotted down over the course of several noncontiguous days before being rearranged and severely edited. So to have a poem flow out all at once for me like that was a nice change of pace.

Something about the first stanza looked naggingly familiar, though. I couldn’t shake the idea that I’d seen similar imagery in someone else’s poetry before.

After some vague but determined googling, I finally tracked down the piece haunting the fringes of my memory. There are enough differences to put my fears of unmeaning plagiarism to rest, but I’m almost certain that the immediate inspiration for the fossilized sneakerprint of “billets-doux” is the second poem Tom Brinck gives as an example in his “SciFaiku Manifesto,” one of the places I turned for more information when I first heard of scifaiku a couple years back. Brinck’s “Digging up an ancient city” is probably the subconscious reason “billets-doux” came out in haiku-shaped stanzas to begin with, and the reason for the shout-out in the subtitle.

AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for “billets-doux”?

BH: The sci-fi elements of this poem are overt, and central to the piece. The time travel alluded to throughout is easily read (I think) as a literal plot point—not strictly as a metaphor for something else.

It’s also a fairly upbeat, optimistic poem. At least, that’s what I was going for.

I associate Asimov’s both with the explicit exploration of sci-fi tropes (like time travel!) and with a wide range in the tone emanated by the stories and poems making up each issue. Though I could be wrong about this, it seems to me that the editors make more room for lighthearted stuff than many other regular SFF publications, both nowadays and historically. (I’ve gone back to Lawrence Watt-Evans’s “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers,” a now fairly venerable Asimov’s-debuted short story, on several occasions when I wanted an emotional pick-me-up.)

As an unambiguously SFnal poem leaning toward the happy-go-lucky, I thought “billets-doux” might be a good fit for the magazine. I’m glad the editors agreed!

AE: What is your process?

BH: Poems and stories for me nearly always originate as a few bullet point notes hastily jotted down on whatever surface avails itself at the moment—my writing notebook, if the timing’s good, but more often than not, the back of a lecture handout, a napkin, or even my wrist. (My phone’s note-taking app is probably a more sensible option, I know, but somehow its existence seems to slip my mind in the instant inspiration strikes.)

Later, at a more convenient moment (ideas almost never announce themselves at convenient moments), I transfer to my writing notebook any notes not already contained therein. I revise and reorganize my notes by hand in the same notebook, and usually go through at least two drafts that way before transferring my work to a word processor. I edit as I type, too—editing at this point largely consisting of heavy pruning. Work I submit for publication is often only a third or a fourth the size of early drafts.

 


Long story short, as much as I love mentally escaping into sci-fi worlds for days or even weeks at a time, I believe I’m best off where I am, learning to better live in this world. In the immortal words of Sesame Street’s Ernie, “I’d like to visit the Moon, / but I don’t think I’d like to live there.”


 

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

BH: More of my time is occupied with moving forward with my doctorate thesis (on linguistic borrowings in Spanish) than with fiction-writing, at the moment.

But I have been getting some sci-fi and fantasy work done here and there. I recently guest-edited an issue of online speculative poetry magazine Eye to the Telescope (“Tricksters,” October 2019), and I have three specpo collections of my own in the very, very slow making. The one I’m farthest along with, and hoping to publish within the next year or so, is a collection of SFF micropoetry—scifaiku, tanka, sijo, and other very short traditional forms of unrhymed verse. (As a series of linked scifaiku, “billets-doux” falls under this umbrella.)

I’ve also got an incipient collection of rhyming poems in the works. These are mostly sonnets, and mostly feature speakers drawn from European folklore and fairytales. I’ve been mentally calling the book-to-be Bluebeard’s First Wife and Other Poems, though that could change. You can read one of the sonnets, “La Belle a la Bête,” online at Abyss & Apex.

And, finally, I continue to gradually add to a series of erasure poems drawn from the text of Ray Bradbury’s classic sci-fi story collection The Martian Chronicles. One of these erasures, “The Martian Chronicles The Earth Men,” is currently available to read online, also at Abyss & Apex.

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

BH: There are a number of series of sci-fi novels featuring intricate world-building that I enjoy immersing myself in time and again. I love reconnecting periodically with the universe and characters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, for instance.

Much as I find the physical and cultural settings of these books compelling platforms for stories that I care about, though, I doubt I would enjoy living in most of them, especially if making the choice to do so meant I could never return to this corner of spacetime.

As far as sci-fi universes in TV/movies go, I’m very attached to the settings and characters of Star Trek—as developed in Deep Space Nine in particular—despite taking a rather cynical view of the United Federation of Planets’s self-advertisement as a democratic, pacific utopia. Having watched shows set in the Star Trek universe since early childhood, I figure if I were suddenly plopped onto one of the member worlds of the UFP, I might have a fighting chance at working out how to get around and at navigating cultural differences. And physically, at least, I expect I would be okay, given the access to many necessary resources and the technological conveniences most Federation citizens in Star Trek shows take for granted.

But again, if moving to Risa or Vulcan or Andoria meant I could never come home, I’d turn down the offer.

Long story short, as much as I love mentally escaping into sci-fi worlds for days or even weeks at a time, I believe I’m best off where I am, learning to better live in this world. In the immortal words of Sesame Street’s Ernie, “I’d like to visit the Moon, / but I don’t think I’d like to live there.”

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?

BH: Reliable, government-provided healthcare available free of charge to anyone who wants it, anytime.

AE: What are you reading right now?

BH: On the nonfiction side of things, I’m currently working my way through Stephen King’s On Writing, Don Kulick’s A Death in the Rainforest, selected chapters of The Cambridge Handbook of Spanish Linguistics, and scattered articles in old installments of the Folia Linguistica Historica. On the fiction side, I’m reading Arkady Martine’s sci-fi political thriller A Memory Called Empire; Dashiell Hammett’s classic hardboiled detective novel Red Harvest; and The Gunslinger, Book One of the sprawling Dark Tower series (Stephen King again).

My habit of jumping from book to book mid-read is a firmly entrenched one. I own probably around 15 bookmarks at this point, all put to frequent use.

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

BH: I can be found on Twitter: @BrittanyHause. I also blog occasionally about science fiction and fantasy poetry at specpotpourri, where I maintain a (usually) up-to-date list of my published poems and other SFF writing you can access by clicking here.


Brittany is a linguist; they also write SFF poetry. Their speculative verse has most recently appeared in Star*Line, Grievous Angel, Abyss & Apex, and Eye to the Telescope.

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