Q&A With Josh Pearce

Poetry has fascinated Josh Pearce since childhood, when a teacher explained to him the meaning of a line in “America the Beautiful.” Since then, Josh has gone from writing on the backs of Jamba Juice receipts, to getting published in a range of magazines. Read his new poem “Mare Serenitatis,” which he calls a “secular take on the Serenity Prayer,” in our [July/August issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: How did this poem germinate?
Josh Pearce: It’s a secular take on the Serenity Prayer—if you’re flying to the moon, you’re putting your faith in something larger than yourself: thousands of engineers; impossibly long manufacturing chains; complicated software; esoteric math and astronomical calculations; national attitude toward science and subsequent funding.
But you’re also putting faith in your own abilities and training. The Serenity Prayer encapsulates that balance, so when I was looking for a framework to hang a poem about Mare Serenitatis on, it fell together fairly easily.

AE: Is this poem part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
JP: This is part of a cycle of poems based on the features of the moon: the Ocean of Storms, the Bay of Rainbows, the Sea of Tranquility, etc. I’ve had a handful published in other magazines (including one in Analog!)
The names of the features are usually fairly poetic, but I don’t know what to do about Mare Moscoviense. From Wikipedia: “The names of maria generally call up psychic states of mind, with a few exceptions. When Mare Moscoviense was discovered, and the name was proposed by the Soviet Union, it was only accepted by the International Astronomical Union with the justification that Moscow is a state of mind.”

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?
JP: “Mare Serenitatis” is my third poem in Asimov’s, out of 49 submissions. I’ve yet to entice Sheila Williams to buy any of my fiction (38 straight rejections), though for one of them she did send me the best rejection letter I’ve ever received.

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing?
JP: I found an old Tweet of mine that says: “My writing falls into the following genres: 1) church horror (aka “church grim” aka “grim-noir”). 2) post-apocalyptic westerns (aka ‘atom west’). 3) asymmetrical astronomical warfare. 4) space shrooms. 5) horny for the moon.” That probably still holds up.
I have a theory that all poems, especially the “classics” that they teach in college, are about either sex or death. Maybe that’s overly Freudian, but I found an even older Tweet of mine that says: “I think the theme that all my poems boil down to is ‘humankind is insignificant and worthless but i really want to have sex with you.'”
I don’t know what was going through Reinhold Niebuhr’s head when he wrote the Serenity Prayer, but the Bible sure is full of sex and death.

AE: What is your process?
JP:Most of my day jobs have involved some form of technical writing; poetry really helps me practice the brevity and clarity essential for that. In fiction, I’ve always had a hard time making myself end a story at the 5,000 word mark (or 7,000 words, for that matter), but lately I’ve been employing technical writing practices to condense my prose writing. I’ve experimented with different forms of pre-writing and outlining, even using flowchart software to map out an entire story before I begin. Then I try to stick as closely to the bare skeleton of the outline as possible, otherwise I’ll be stuck on the same story for over a year, struggling to trim down all the excess words.

I don’t know what was going through Reinhold Niebuhr’s head when he wrote the Serenity Prayer, but the Bible sure is full of sex and death.

AE: What inspired you to start writing?
JP: The first time I remember writing a poem was in school, maybe second or third grade. My teacher had me help other kids because I had grasped the concept of a poem almost right away, and I think the reason for that was due to piano lessons. Kids’ piano books are full of folk songs and hymns: simple rhymes, rigid structure. Playing those songs over and over again instilled a sense of where a line break goes, and how to internalize meter.
It was from one of those songs that I learned what “alabaster” was. “America the Beautiful” has a verse that says, “Thine alabaster cities gleam / Undimmed by human tears,” which really stuck with me when the teacher explained what that meant. Later I heard a line in “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby,” by Emmylou Harris: “Come and lay your bones on the alabaster stones / And be my ever-lovin’ baby.” So now that kind of imagery has been cropping up in some of my moon poems as well.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
JP: I’ve always got a million unfinished things in progress because during the plague years and with young kids in the house I feel like I can’t focus on one thing for too long. But I like to believe I’m making steady progress on a horror novel. I’ve also got three short stories drafted, and two others outlined, so my goal is to get those sent out this year.

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
JP: Utility fogs are really cool, but I recognize that they’re basically magic. Otherwise, I’d like to see thorium or molten salt nuclear reactors really take off (or obviously cold fusion would be a magic bullet, but that’s also unlikely to come to pass), or hypothetically we could do orbital energy transmission technology. If we could provide relatively clean, abundant energy, to the extent that it was so cheap it’s basically free, that would raise the standard of living for everyone on the planet. The economy is really predicated on the amount of available energy. With it, we can manufacture nitrate fertilizers, run desalination plants for potability and irrigation, heat and cool houses, run electric vehicles, whatever!
Kim Stanley Robinson even did the calculations in The Ministry for the Future of how much energy each person would need to live a comfortable life, and how much energy is currently produced—adequate energy is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.

AE:What are you reading right now?
JP: Learning the World by Ken MacLeod (about a generation ship making first contact with a world full of “alien space bats”), and The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. I recently finished Helgoland by Carlo Rovelli, and I’ve been recommending Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake to everyone.
There was also Cold War Submarines: The Design and Construction of U.S. and Soviet Submarines, 1945-2001 by Norman Polmar and K. J. Moore, which I found useful in envisioning fictional space ships, and I’m looking forward to next reading Seashaken Houses: A Lighthouse History from Eddystone to Fastnet by Tom Nancollas.

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
JP: The job that had the biggest impact on my writing was probably when I was working opening shifts at Jamba Juice. Health-conscious people tend to get up really early to exercise, and they want their vitamin smoothies right after, so opening meant getting to the store at 5am, kind of a twilight world feeling. During lulls I would write poems on the back of receipts, and that constrained my poetry format because receipt paper is only so big. A lot of nature poems, probably reflecting how much I didn’t want to be stuck inside a corporate food service establishment. I wrote hundreds of poems at that job. That was 15 years ago, and I’m still selling some of them to this day.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
JP: On my website, fictionaljosh.com, or on Twitter: @fictionaljosh

Josh Pearce is a writer from the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lives with his wife and son. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, and Dark Matter Magazine.

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