Born from toy robots, fairy tale language, and a somewhat erratic writing process, Ted Kosmatka’s newest story, “The Beast Adjoins” [on sale now] taps into the universal emotions of the parent-child dynamic. Below, he digs further into the tale’s genesis, his varied career history, and a work of SF that’s recently gripped him.
Asimov Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
TK: I can probably thank my eleven-year-old son for sparking this story. He’s a great builder of toy robots and spends a lot of his time creating these elaborate, complex figures out of plastic building sets, and they fold up in interesting ways, and have all kinds of strange body plans and moving parts. One day he was showing me what he’d built, and it was just great, this robot with all these arms and legs, and a little swiveling rib cage that opened up and had another robot inside. He asked me if I’d written any robot stories. I hadn’t, really. So I decided to write one.
I didn’t really have an idea beyond that at first, just an intention to write something about robots, at some point, but sometimes if you open yourself up to a subject, the story will just kind of unfold for you later when you’re not really thinking about it, and that’s what happened in this case. Later I got to thinking about consciousness, and the ways observation impacts quantum mechanics, and I realized that those things might have an interesting intersection with the idea of AI, so I started noodling on a beginning to see if it took me anywhere. I think I originally wanted the story to have a timeless feel to the language, which would maybe make it feel a bit like a Grimm’s fairy tale. The story went in its own weird direction once I started, and it didn’t end up anything like a fairy tale at all, really, which just shows that I’m either horrible at doing what I intend to do, or that stories have a mind of their own.
AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
TK: This story is a stand-alone, though now that I’ve written it, I can imagine other stories could spin off from here. It might be the kind of thing I return to again. I’m just finishing up a new story that’s actually in the same universe as a story I wrote ten years ago, so you never know.
AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
TK: I can usually relate to all the characters in a story at least a little, or I have trouble writing them. There are certain universals that are good to tap into. As a parent you have a burning fire inside you to protect your children, no matter what. And as a child, you have this desire to believe that things will be okay no matter how scary they seem. Both those conditions are things I can relate to, and they provided a kind of pivot for the story to circle.
AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
TK: Titles are tricky. This one came to me pretty quick, before I’d even finished the first page, which was a nice relief. There’s nothing worse than finishing a story and not having any idea what to call it. In this case, the odd word combo just popped into my head as I was writing, and I thought it might make a good handle for the story. When I told people the name, they didn’t hate it, so that was that. It’s nice when a title has an interesting juxtaposition of words.
“I think you just kind of stumble upon your recurrent themes when you write. I never intend to aim at certain themes, but when you stack all your stories next to each other, there they are staring back at you. And then you’re like, oh, that’s what I write about, I guess. The patterns pop out. I try not to dig into the reasons too much or I might accidentally change something.”
AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this story?
TK: I read a lot of Asimov’s robots when I was a kid, so sending a robot story to Asimov’s felt pretty cool. Like coming full circle.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
TK: I think you just kind of stumble upon your recurrent themes when you write. I never intend to aim at certain themes, but when you stack all your stories next to each other, there they are staring back at you. And then you’re like, oh, that’s what I write about, I guess. The patterns pop out. I try not to dig into the reasons too much or I might accidentally change something.
AE: What is your process?
TK: Whatever the most efficient way to write is, I’m sure I’m not doing it. I’m pretty ADD and tend to jump around a lot, and work on multiple projects at the same time, switching between novels and short stories. At some point, I usually find myself staring at the screen, down the home stretch, and I think to myself that I’m finishing the project before I get up from the chair, no matter what. It’s like a vow. So then I switch from being pretty scattered to having this almost pathological focus. That often means that I end up writing all night, at a twelve-hour stretch, and send stuff off as a submission at seven a.m.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
TK: On the fiction side of things, I have a finished novel in the hopper now which I’m trying to figure out what to do with. It’s a far-future post-apocalypse that I spent a couple of years writing. I’m also writing for a video game that I’m really excited about.
AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
TK: This week, my answer would be that Mars show on Netflix. I’ve been binge watching that thing, and I’m practically overcome with grief that I was born too soon to get the chance to be a part of something like that in real life. I love the way they mix real science with the fictional aspects of that SFnal universe. It’s a tough balance to strike, but they really pulled it off.
AE: What SFnal predictions do you find yourself thinking about for the future?
TK: SFnal predictions are tough and I have a tendency to think about the negative. The one bright prediction I’d make, though, is that I think we’ll get out into space in a big way before too much longer. So that’s one positive thing. I’m just young enough that nobody has stepped on the Moon during my entire life, and I’d love to see that change. I’m also interested in how solar power advances might free us up from the grid.
AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
TK: I’ve done a lot of different jobs over the years, starting with a paper route at age ten. I detassled corn in high school, and painted houses. I washed dishes at a truck stop, and shoveled manure in a zoo. I’ve been a steel worker in the Indiana mills—a job I did for years—and then a lab tech at a research lab, and most recently, a video game writer in Seattle. All these different jobs have had an effect on me, I’m sure, though it’s hard to say what, exactly. Work is how I tend to understand the world, so it helps me center my stories, I think, if I know the kind of work that’s being done by the characters. In some stories, that work might just be survival. But that still counts. It’s always job number one.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
TK: If folks would like, they can check out my website at https://tedkosmatka.us/.
I have links there to a couple of novels available, if anyone wants to try my longer fiction.
Ted Kosmatka’s most recent story, “Sacrificial Iron,” was a winner of Asimov’s 34th Annual Readers Award. The author returns to our pages with another story set in deep space.