Q&A With David Cleary

David Cleary discusses the memories, from dancing to David Bowie, to discovering P.G. Wodehouse, that helped spark inspiration for “My Year as a Boy,” his latest story for Asimov’s, in our [January/February issue, on sale now!].

Asimov’s Editor: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
David Cleary: As an eight-year old boy, I obsessed about David Bowie and liked to put on my mother’s makeup and dance in front of the bathroom mirror. As a forty-five year-old man, I obsessed about climate change and thought it would be funny to make an island from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Sometime in the Nineties, I became a fan of P.G. Wodehouse. All these ingredients went into the mix that became this story.

DC: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
AE: This story is set in the same near-future Earth as that of “The Kewlest Thing of All,” (Asimov’s, March, 2006), about thirty years after the events of that story. My yet-as-unpublished novel Carbon Manifesto foregrounds the environmental concerns that are more grace notes in “My Year as a Boy.”

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
DC: I relate most to Taggie, the narrator: I can be self-conscious and awkward, and have committed some embarrassing faux pas when trying to be gallant.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
DC: My influences: first, the SF writers I read growing up, especially Robert Silverberg, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin.  Then the writers who taught me at the ’87 Clarion workshop: Lucius Shepard, Karen Joy Fowler, Algis Budrys, Damon Knight, Kate Wilhelm, and Suzy McKee Charnas.  (I’m very sad to learn that Suzy passed away at the beginning of this year.) Next the writers who have twisted my brain over the years, among them: William Gibson, Michael Swanwick, Greg Bear, Christopher Priest, China Mieville, and Greg Egan. Next, fiction writers outside the field: Martin Cruz Smith, Richard Powers, Cormac McCarthy, and David Mitchell. Finally these non-fiction writers: Daniel C. Dennett and Richard Hofstadter for philosophy of mind, Stephen Jay Gould and E.O. Wilson for biology, John Gribbin for physics, Paul Theroux for travel.

As an eight-year old boy, I obsessed about David Bowie and liked to put on my mother’s makeup and dance in front of the bathroom mirror. As a forty-five year-old man, I obsessed about climate change and thought it would be funny to make an island from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
DC: We are blessed—or cursed—to live in interesting times, and, as a news junkie, I fear that current events may affect my writing—and my psyche—to a greater extent than is healthy for me.

AE: How did you break into writing?
DC: When I was a little boy, I wrote plays to be performed by my stuffed animals and Star Trek action figures. As a teen, I began typing up “serious” stories on my dad’s manual typewriter, sending them off to Asimov’s or Analog to be summarily rejected. 1987 was my breakthrough year; I went to the Clarion workshop in East Lansing, Michigan, and, through some alchemy I’ve never understood—Was it the rigor of the coursework? The excitement of meeting actual published writers?—I transformed into something like a professional writer: I eventually published four of the stories I wrote while at Clarion.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
DC: I’m working on an historical fantasy\alternate history set in ancient Greece and Rome, an expansion of my story “How Long the Night, Awake,” (appeared in The Colored Lens, Autumn 2019.) I’m also planning to put together a collection of my steampunk stories this year.

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
DC: I’d like to see some combination of genetic engineering and nanotechnology finally end disease.

AE: What are you reading right now?
DC: In December I read Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr—which was fascinating. Part historical romance, part eco-terrorist thriller, part multi-generational starship SF, compelling enough that I read it in a day. I liked it enough that I’m reading his entire oeuvre; right now I’m reading his collection The Memory Wall.

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
DC: As somebody who is easily distracted I cannot recommend too highly a) noise cancelling headphones, and b) browser web-site blocker software. Both help me focus. There’s also something to be said for the standard recommendations: write every day, join a writers’ workshop, read as much as you can both within the genre and outside it, submit your stories and submit them somewhere else if they are rejected. And also go out and have fun with people sometimes.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
DC: I occasionally post on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/david.cleary.908). There’s also my website (www.davidiracleary.com) but it is sorely in need of updating.

I was born in Wyoming and raised in Colorado, but have spent most of my adult life in California, writing manuals for software companies, and science fiction stories when I have the time. After several years, first in San Francisco, and then in the quaint seaside town of Pacifica, I moved to Oakland, where I live with my wife Cheryl (a talented actress) and two cats and a dog. I’ve been published in Asimov’s, Interzone, Persistent Visions, The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, as well as in other magazines and anthologies. My first published story (“All Our Sins Forgotten”) was made into an episode of the Sci-Fi Channel’s series Welcome to Paradox. With Lisa Goldstein and Martha Soukup I founded a writer’s workshop that has continued to meet sporadically for three decades. I was a runner until I wore out my right foot. Lately I’ve been learning to kayak, and trying to make myself swim.

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