A.T. Greenblatt’s first-ever story for Asimov’s, “Re: Bubble 476” [in our March/April issue, on sale now!], feels fitting for a world where we’re all inhabiting bubble universes. Read on to learn what non-pandemic spark of inspiration brought us this piece, the usual relationship between A.T.’s writing and current events (when she isn’t being unexpectedly prescient), and why she loves parallel universes.
Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
ATG: I started writing this story immediately after being on a panel about epistolary fiction at ConFusion in January 2020 (the last in-person con I went to before the pandemic hit the USA). The panelists were Scott Andrews, Emma Törzs, Alexandra Manglis, Sarah Gibbons and me, and we talked to a sleepy Sunday-morning audience about what a powerful storytelling device letters are in fiction. Someone—I don’t remember who—said that letters can create tension by having a time lag, and someone else added that letters don’t always arrive in order. And bam! Something clicked in my head.
I started scribbling out the first lines of this story immediately after the panel ended, while I sat in the audience for another panel.
AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
ATG: So after I got the spark of inspiration at ConFusion, this story came together quickly. Usually, it takes me a few months at least to write a story from an idea to a finished product. Sometimes it takes me years.
“Re: Bubble 476” was written, revised twice, and finalized within a month, which is the quickest I have ever finished a story. When I gave the first draft to my critique group, I was convinced the story was an unfollowable trainwreck. But they were like: “No, it makes sense and we look forward to your future collection titled ‘Letters from Space.’”
I also want to mention that I finished this story before the pandemic started and put us all in our own bubbles. So, when I reread this story a few months ago, I was a little unsettled about how much more relevant it feels now than it did back in January 2020.
AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
ATG: I usually relate to all my characters in my stories—even the ones I disagree with – because I think that’s an important component to creating characters your readers will empathize with. In this case, I relate strongly to Deni and Geo—their social awkwardness, their anxiety, their hopes for a stable future. And the love they have for each other as friends, even though they are worlds apart.
. . . most of the time, in hero stories, if you change the narrative point of view, you end up with a darker, more complex story.
AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
ATG: It’s a sliding scale for me. If I’m drafting a story quickly—like within a week or two—then my stories draw directly from whatever I’m stressed about in the news or the world. The longer a story takes to draft or revise, the bigger the questions in the story get. For example, I wrote the first draft of a story last weekend and it was about what people think is an acceptable loss of life for the ability to hang out with each other (I’m writing this in January 2021—over 400,000 people have died from the Covid-19 in the USA alone). But stories like “Give the Family My Love” and “Before the World Crumbles Away” grapple with the huge and complex questions of what we do in the face of environmental collapse and an uncertain future.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
ATG: Oh, I love parallel universes and neighboring worlds in stories, and I’m trying to figure out how to tell as many stories as possible with them and not repeat myself. I love these themes because they always promise wonder and a journey, introspection and strangeness. Basically my favorite things about this genre.
I also spend far too much time thinking about heroes and the strange, charmed way many stories treat them (both in fiction and real life). Because most of the time, in hero stories, if you change the narrative point of view, you end up with a darker, more complex story.
AE: What is your process?
ATG: Step 1 – Start scratching ideas in a notebook.
Step 2 – Begin typing up a story draft.
Step 3 – Give up. Go for a walk. Come back the next day and try step 2 again.
Step 4 – Repeat steps 2 and 3 until a draft is finished.
Step 5 – Send out the story for beta reader feedback.
Step 6 – Let the story sit for a while and ferment in my head.
Step 7 – Look at notes from beta readers and begin revisions.
Step 8 – Repeat steps 3 through 7 until I have a finished draft that I’m sick of looking at, tired of thinking about, and don’t have anything left I want to change.
Step 9 – Send the story out into the world. Hope for the best. Start working on another story.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
ATG: I find when I can’t write it’s usually a sign I’m exhausted or creatively tapped out. My only solution is to take a break from writing, usually for a month or two, and spend time outside or travel. I’ll also spend lots of time playing video games and reading. I never really know how long these “rest” periods will be, but I’m trying to not feel guilty when I need them—which is a work in progress.
AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
ATG: Star Trek, without question or contest. Specifically, Next Generation. Give me that optimistic future of humanity, where we figure out how to grow as a species.
AE: What are you reading right now?
ATG: I’m usually always reading one book and listening to another. It works for me. Right now I’m listening to Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell, which is a collection of essays about the current climate crisis. I’m also reading The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison, a Sherlock Holmes retelling with angels and demons. Both are excellent reads so far.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
ATG: Besides the age-old advice to read ferociously and widely?
I always recommend trying something new with every story you write. It doesn’t have to be a big stretch, either, like a new subgenre (though it can). It can be as simple as trying out a new point of view or having a scene with three characters instead of your normal two. The worst thing that will happen is you don’t pull it off the first time. And that isn’t so bad because we learn more from our failures than our successes.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
ATG: I have a blog that I occasionally update at https://atgreenblatt.com and I can be found on Twitter @AtGreenblatt, where I mostly post content about what I’m baking or my dog.