Q&A with Aaron Sandberg

Pared down from its original forty-eight-word-long title, Aaron Sandberg’s poem “I Get a Call from My Estranged Father and Let It Go to Voicemail” comes to you in the pages of our March/April issue [on sale now]! Aaron took the time to tell us about the poem’s origins, his greatest achievement to date, and which hardware store popped up more than once when he generated a word cloud from his poems.

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

AS: I came across a story of J002E3 on the internet—which is a less embarrassing way of saying I saw it on Reddit—and thought it sounded like a metaphor (for what, I didn’t know). I started messing around with the conceit, and it became the thing it is today.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?

AS: The title—which was originally forty-eight words—is really the poem. After landing on the concept, I wanted it as blunt as possible. Without it, the piece doesn’t work. It sets the table. While it’s straightforward, it doesn’t make much sense until you finish reading the whole thing. You give the reader one plus one and let them add up two.

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

AS: Not at all. I come from a good family and my dad is a great guy. Ha. This was just the first metaphor that came to me when thinking about “unwanted-trash-that-leaves-for-a-long-time-and-comes-back-uninvited” and it seemed to work. I’m sure we all have versions of people like that in—and out of—our lives, though.

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

AS: Is there a better place for SF that I’m unaware of?

I keep a Google Doc full of drafts, words, phrases, lines, links, lists, etc. If I keep the toy chest full of new toys, then it’s hard to get blocked or bored.

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

AS: Sometimes a lot, usually not at all. Occasionally I’ll write about something very topical or a poem based on a headline, but it’s not the way I usually go about it. I think all current events influence my writing to some degree, but it’s usually not explicit. Even when it starts that way, the poem usually goes “somewhere else” by the time I’m done writing it and expands beyond whatever specific event triggered the idea to touch on something universal, if that’s even possible anymore.

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

AS: I think I write a lot about the domestic, minutia, intimacy, loss, the past, etc. I did a word cloud at one time and entered all my poems to see my most commonly used words. I remember seeing a lot of “wolves” and “ghosts.” I’m not sure what that says about me. I like putting objects in unfamiliar locations and seeing what happens. Animals appear a lot. Home Depot pops up occasionally for some reason. I’m sure there’s a through-line of themes but I’m not sure.

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

AS: I keep a Google Doc full of drafts, words, phrases, lines, links, lists, etc. If I keep the toy chest full of new toys, then it’s hard to get blocked or bored. Reading also keeps the ideas coming in. You can’t write well if you don’t read. I teach high school English and I’ve told my students you can’t be a good chef if you don’t eat delicious food. That’s probably an apt metaphor.

AE: What are you reading right now?

AS: I’m rereading Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer. Although it feels like that book reads me. What a trip. Do you think he’ll see this? Hi, Jeff VanderMeer!

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

AS: I’m as new as anyone at this, but I try to do at least one of these four things each day: read, write, revise, submit. As long as you do one of those daily, you’re doing the work. Probably. What do I know?

AE: What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?

AS: Words are important to me, but I once won a lip sync battle singing a song without lyrics. It’s my greatest achievement to date. Also, if you’re wondering about the forty-eight-word title, it was “I Get a Call from My Estranged Father Many Years After We Last Spoke and Let It Go to Voicemail Where He Tells Me He Is in Fact My Estranged Father Who Is in Town and Who Would Like Me to Call Him Back as Soon as Possible.” Editors are important.

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

AS: I commit social-suicide by posting poetry stuff on Instagram. You can find me there @aarondsandberg.

Aaron Sandberg resides in Illinois, where he teaches. His recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Asimov’s Science Fiction, English Journal, Abridged, The Racket, Writers Resist, Yes Poetry, perhappened mag, Unbroken, and elsewhere. You might find him—though socially-distant—on Instagram @aarondsandberg.

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