Author Peter Wood loves to plumb the depths of the human condition, and hates the sexism of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Discover more about Peter in this interview. His new story “Quake” appears [in our March/April issue, on sale now!]
Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
Pete Wood: My wife and I vacation with family and friends several times a year in Boone, North Carolina. In warmer weather we tube down the New River. My mind wanders on these trips. I tend to write about places I’ve been. I started researching the geology and history of the river as I read about a very interesting historical site in Ohio. Things just fell into place. And I’m a big fan of WKRP in Cincinnati.
AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
PW: It’s a standalone story. My stories don’t overlap except that on occasion there might be an Easter Egg from a previous story or two, but nobody would catch those except me.
AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
PW: There are almost too many to mention. First, it would have to be lighthearted Golden Age Science Fiction. Two of my writing heroes are Robert Sheckley and Jack Finney. Most of their stories are positive and somewhat comic. “Skulking Permit,” by Sheckley, is the perfect science fiction story. Funny. A great villain. Humans acting very human. “Salting the Mine” (Asimov’s, January/February 2019) is my homage. My only beef about the Golden Age stuff is that they tend to be pretty sexist with only peripheral female characters. I try to have strong female characters in my stories.
My other inspirations are literary non-speculative writers who can suck you in with a story about almost nothing. Anne Tyler is my favorite writer. She crafts page turners about very ordinary people doing very ordinary things. Breathing Lessons is full of great characters, plot, and suspense even if it’s about a married couple having an argument on a car ride. Then there’s Margaret Atwood, whose intense character studies in books like Cat’s Eye (with a plot that sounds not that compelling) are master classes. Or Ernest Hemingway who wrote the greatest book of all time—The Sun Also Rises which is about a bunch of drunks fishing and playing cards in post-World War I Europe but is the greatest book about the War ever written.
AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
PW: Current events don’t really affect my writing except for occasional political satire. And those are really attacks on the political process where I highlight the absurdity of politicians going out of their way to find uncommon ground. Stories to me are an escape. I like to highlight the human condition and show that people can work together, and problem solve and are inherently flawed and likable. My characters don’t argue or bang their heads against the wall for entire stories, because I see enough of that in real life. If I can’t solve my own problems, at least I can give my characters happy endings.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing?
PW: I don’t know if you’d call them themes, but all of my stories have two things in common. Humans are always going to be human no matter where, no matter when. We won’t all become atheistic drones, popping food pills and wearing silver unitards. We’re going to have the same problems and the same lovable foibles. Read the Iliad or the Bible. We’ve been struggling with the same shortcomings for thousands of years and colonizing other planets isn’t going to change any of that.
The other thing is that we’re going to find a way to get along. Whatever happens, we’re not going to devolve into Mad Max. Let’s face it. If it was our nature to break into warring tribes who raped and pillaged whenever the chips were down, we never would have developed civilization in the first place.
My characters don’t argue or bang their heads against the wall for entire stories, because I see enough of that in real life. If I can’t solve my own problems, at least I can give my characters happy endings.
AE: What is your process?
PW: Characters first. I come up with a germ of an idea, set it aside and then create the characters. I figure out what makes them tick, thrown them into the story and see, based on their personalities, where the story takes me. I don’t care how mind-blowing your big idea is, if your characters are driven by the idea and not the other way around, I’m not going to like the story. I’d rather read a story where the characters get out of the haunted house than one where they keep returning, because that’s where the author wants them to be.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
PW: I move onto something else. I don’t force it. I have plenty of things to do- work, mowing grass, or other stories—where I don’t have to try to strong arm a story to work. The story will come to me when I am not thinking about it. Many of my best ideas pop up when I’m running. Asimov’s rejected “Never the Twain Shall Meet” (Asimov’s May/June 2019)but said they’d look at a revision. I left that story alone for almost a year, before the plot resolution occurred to me. Have patience.
AE: How did you break into writing?
PW: I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. I had a steady gig as a columnist at Wake Forest University’s Old Gold and Black, my college newspaper, and did movie reviews for several years at the Courier Herald in Dublin, Georgia. I kept writing fiction but didn’t submit a story until about twenty years ago. After some form rejections, I decided to improve my writing. Only when I figured out what I was doing wrong did I very gradually start to sell stories in 2009.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
Podcasts! I have three fiction podcasts in the works, all in various stages of completion. I am fortunate to know some very talented actors in Raleigh who make my writing shine. Seth and Rebecca Blum starred in my movie Quantum Donut, as well as the audio version of “Robots, Riverboats, and Ransom in the Regular Way” (Asimov’s, May/June 2018). Dawn of Time, about a plucky teenager with a time machine is a collaborative project where I serve as story editor. It’s written and recorded and will be online sometime in 2022 on Stupefying Stories. Rex Jupiter, Intergalactic Plumber, another collaborative project, is almost complete and will be recorded soon. The third podcast is being shopped around for a home and is completely my brainchild.
I am also collaborating with six other authors, including Asimov’s alum Jonathan Sherwood, on The Odin Chronicles, a loosely connected collection of short stories about life on the distant mining planet of Odin. Stories are being released weekly on Page and Spine Fiction Showcase (www.pagespineficshowcase.com) We plan to publish an eBook in the fall.
AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
PW: I like the universe of the original Star Trek. These are people I’d actually like to hang out with. They’re easy going, have good senses of humor, and live in a predominantly positive world. A very sexist world, alas. I’d like that to be changed.
AE: What are you reading right now?
PW: The Clock Winder by Anne Tyler about a widow in 1960s Baltimore and her relationship with her college drop out twentyish female handyman. Revolution Song by Russell Shorton, a sweeping nonfiction epic, which jumps around between six real people during the American Revolution. George Washington, the bureaucrat who ran the war for Britain, an Iroquois chief, the daughter of a British soldier, a freed slave, and a New York lawyer. Claire Vaye Watkins’s Gold Fame Citrus a dystopian look at a drought-stricken California in the near future.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
PW: I have a steady gig as an editor and blog writer for Stupefying Stories. I’m not too internet savvy and do not have a website. Folks can always just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. But, on the bright side, I did finally upgrade that rotary phone.