Q&A With Steve Rasnic Tem

Steve Rasnic Tem has always been fascinated by technology and the movement of life’s stages. His new story asks readers, “Do You Remember?”Check it out in our [March/April issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece, and do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?

Steve Rasnic Tem: The fact I lost my wife Melanie (also an Asimov’s contributor) 7 years ago has led many reviewers to conclude my stories during this period have been about processing my grief. This may be true in part, but I’ve always written about grief, about losing people, about getting old. These are subjects which have interested me since I was in my thirties. Now they have more personal relevance.
Although my emotional connection to a subject often drives my fiction—I write about what I care about—my stories are rarely autobiographical. Even when you try to write your own experiences into a story the creative process changes them into whatever is needed by your narrative. You may still be telling the truth, but it’s an emotional, not a factual truth.
Someone once observed that writers tend to write characters close to their own age. Young writers write about finding a mate and starting a life. Slightly older writers write about raising kids and marital discord. Middle aged writers often write about divorce and starting over, and their fears over aging and a loss of vitality. Older writers write about being old and looking back or worrying about whatever is to come. I suppose if you get old enough, you start writing about dead people.
For the most part I’ve tended to look forward, writing stories about people a decade or more older than I was at the time. I write about personal and human issues which concern me, but my characters tend to struggle more than I do. Struggle is where our humanity is on full display.
Now that I’m past 70, I observe the struggles of older people from a closer, more involved POV. I find it troubling with all our technical prowess we haven’t done enough to make it easier for older people to function effectively in the world. Sharp minds with years of knowledge and experience find their participation limited because of mobility, strength, isolation, incontinence, and sometimes perceptual and cognitive issues. We could do much better finding solutions for these impairments.
Like many of my science fiction stories, “Do You Remember?” began with a couple of near-future technological developments and my thoughts about how those innovations might affect the lives of ordinary citizens. The first is round-the-clock surveillance, a development which most of us fear, but an older person (or that person’s family) anxious about dying at home without medical care might eagerly sign up for such an option. This option might help facilitate the second development: simulacra of the dead to facilitate grieving or for other therapeutic or educational purposes. Experts in AI tend to disagree as to whether we’ll ever be able to upload an entire human consciousness, but an intelligent imitation you could interact with seems entirely possible. But it will still be an awkward relationship for the average human family, and fraught with emotional complication.

AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this story?
SRT: When I think of Asimov’s I think of stories with great humanity, stories in which the emotional and psychological impact of technologies on real human beings takes center stage. So, this particular story was originally written with Asimov’s in mind.

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?
SRT: “Do You Remember?” is my twelfth short story in Asimov’s. My first was “Interlude in a Laboratory” in the August 1981 issue when George H. Scithers was the editor. I’ve also published numerous poems in the magazine.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
SRT: Like most writers I have a ton of influences. Generally, my literary influences lean toward the modern fabulists and writers of the supernatural: Kafka, Borges, Barthelme, Brautigan, Calvino, Ramsey Campbell, Robert Aickman, MR James. Gestalt Dream Theory has been another inspiration—I try to create elements in my stories which mirror the protagonists’ conflicts and concerns. For a supernatural story I can select items from the real world around me. For a science fiction story, I must speculate about future developments and create those items and landscapes which echo my characters’ dilemmas.
It took me awhile to find a voice for my science fiction stories which I felt was truly mine. I looked to SF writers like Ray Bradbury, Ted Sturgeon, and Harlan Ellison, but the biggest influences on my science fiction have been the writers I have known and workshopped with: Ed Bryant, Connie Willis, James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel, and others whose work I consider “humanist” science fiction. They have consistently produced stories about real human concerns which have moved me. The main thing I look for in any piece of fiction is its ability to make me feel something. I want to laugh. I want to be brought to tears.

AE: How did you break into writing?
SRT: In high school I started submitting stories to Ted White at Amazing Stories. He never bought any of those stories (nor should he have), but he was always encouraging. I continued to submit to literary and SF mags in college without success. I got into the Master’s in Creative Writing program at Colorado State University and there I got a handle on the craft and started placing poems and short prose. My SF education continued as part of the Northern Colorado Writers Workshop started by Ed Bryant. My first professional sale was to Ramsey Campbell in 1979 for his anthology New Terrors. Sales to such editors as Charlie Grant, Roy Torgeson, Stuart Schiff, and Lin Carter followed. (I finally got into Amazing Stories in 1987.)

The main thing I look for in any piece of fiction is its ability to make me feel something. I want to laugh. I want to be brought to tears.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
SRT: At this stage in my life projects tend to be fluid. I’ve given myself permission to complete only those projects which I really care about (although new opportunities always tend to insert themselves). I just published my 15th story collection Thanatrauma (Valancourt Books), and I’ve placed Rough Justice, my collected crime fiction, at a publisher yet to be named.  At some point I’d like to collect some of my Appalachian stories and another science fiction collection. I’m also working on a couple of novels, including one about AI and interstellar travel.

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
SRT: There are so many! Many SF novels seem to assume we survived climate change—I’d certainly like to know how we accomplished that. Then there are the science fiction novels which suggest some sort of basic universal income is available. A guaranteed basic income and health care would free up our time to focus on better things and move humanity forward. But what would we do with our time? That’s always been the challenge. Finding meaningful work for most people is a goal worth working for.

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
SRT: If you’re so inclined, find a workshop to join. They’re not for everybody, but they’re invaluable if they work for you. Learn how to self-edit. It might require taking a few weeks out of your life to read a good book on grammar and usage. You can always hire an editor for the basics, but if you can’t edit yourself, you’ll always be at a disadvantage. But something available to us all is reading. If you want to write short stories read a thousand short stories, but pay attention. How did the author begin and end the story? What was the strategy? How did they structure the middle? How did they lead your attention through the narrative? You can learn a great deal from this kind of analysis.

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
SRT: I’ve taught—7th, 8th, 9th, and first-year college students. I’ve run a parts department for Allis-Chalmers light industrial equipment. But by far my longest career was as a technical writer/editor in the software industry: accounting programs, games, Oracle databases, auto parts inventory, interior design back-office software, and wood construction engineering. I mainly wrote manuals and online Help systems. This experience was invaluable to my fiction career, teaching me how to organize and write quickly for long periods of time, but especially focusing my attention on the basics of composition, grammar, and clear communication.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
SRT: My website is www.stevetem.com. My Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/steve.tem/. My Twitter handle is @Rasnictem. My Pinterest is stevetem. And my Amazon page is https://www.amazon.com/Steve-Rasnic-Tem/e/B001JRYPX6?.

Steve Rasnic Tem, a past winner of the Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, and British Fantasy Awards, has published 470+ short stories. Recent collections include The Night Doctor & Other Tales (Centipede) and Thanatrauma: Stories (Valancourt). His novel Ubo is a dark science fictional tale about violence and its origins, featuring such viewpoint characters as Jack the Ripper and Stalin.  You can visit his home on the web at www.stevetem.com.

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