Q&A with Lawrence Watt-Evans

It may have taken thirty years, but we’re thrilled to publish the intended follow-up to “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers,” which was featured in the July 1987 issue of Asimov’s. Below, author Lawrence Watt-Evans describes its journey to our pages as well as his own within the writing profession.


Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

LWE: The story behind the story: Back in 1987 I made my first sale to a major science fiction magazine, when Asimov’s bought “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers.” I was thrilled, and wanted to find a way to exploit this opening.

It immediately occurred to me that I could use Harry’s as the setting for other stories. I came up with several premises, and started writing five of them. The most ambitious was called “How I Found Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers,” and it was intended as a pretty direct follow-up.

But the only one I finished in anything like a reasonable time frame was “A Flying Saucer with Minnesota Plates.”

But then, early in 2018, Warner Brothers optioned a script based on “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers,” and my interest was suddenly renewed. This time I did complete “How I Found Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers.” Naturally, I sent it to the same place I’d sent the first two, and they bought it—my first sale to Asimov’s in over twenty years. Also my first submission there in over twenty years.

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Two Days and Eighteen Songs

by Michael Swanwick

Emily Hockaday [Asimov’s Associate Editor] asked me if I would write a guest blog post for From Earth to the Stars about how I came to write my latest story for Asimov’s Science Fiction.

Um . . . okay.

At the risk of sounding reductionist, it took eighteen songs and two days to write “Eighteen Songs by Debussy.” Here, as best as I can reconstruct things, is what went into the creation of that story.

First Movement

Of Debussy’s songs I know almost nothing. Only that they are lush, moving, romantic, tragic, erotic, and capable of touching the spirit as well as the body. Also that, when well performed, they are worth paying money to hear.

Thus it was that I found myself at the Academy of Vocal Arts, one of Philadelphia’s cultural treasures, listening to Lyric Fest’s recital of the songs that inspired my story.

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Q&A with Kofi Nyameye

Kofi Nyameye appears in our pages for the first time in the March/April issue [one sale now] with his short story “The Lights Go Out, One by One.” Here he describes how the tale expanded from its original version, his endless fascination with people, his writing process, and much more.


 

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

KN: I wrote a very early form of this story about five years ago. It was barely over a thousand words long, but the germ of the idea was there. Deep down I knew there was more to the story than what I’d written, but I felt too lazy to put in the work required to expand it, so I put the story away and moved on to something else.

Three years later I showed that draft to my mentor, Geoff Ryman. After reading it he also believed there was a bigger story in there than what I’d written, and encouraged me to return to it, see what I’d find.

The Lights Go Out is what I found.

 

AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

KN: The image that grew into this story popped into my head one day while I was doing some meaningless task I no longer remember. I saw two people on the outside of a spaceship, trying desperately to repair a fault while their ship spun wildly out of control. The image hooked me at once. I knew I had to find out what was going on there.

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Q&A with Tom Purdom

After decades of prolific storytelling, Tom Purdom thought he had run out of ideas. So he decided to confront SFnal themes he had previously avoided, and inspiration returned. The result, among other stories, was “January March” in our current issue [on sale now].


 

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

TP: A few years ago I discovered I didn’t have any ideas for new stories. All my life, it seems to me, I’ve known what my next fiction project would be while I was working on the current one. I could have assumed I was just getting old, my idea generator had conked out, and I should stop writing science fiction. That didn’t seem like an attractive option. Instead, I looked around for a type of SF story I hadn’t written and decided I could start by experimenting with faster-than-light interstellar travel. I’ve avoided FTL in every interstellar story I’ve written except my first Ace Double (I Want the Stars, 1964). I’ve limited my stories to stuff that lies squarely within the realm of the possible, like long-term ships that depend on developments like hibernation and long lifespan.

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Q&A with Jack Dann

Jack Dann visits our blog to discuss his Salinger-influenced tale “Mr. Death Goes to the Beach” on sale now in our Jan/Feb issue. Learn about his upcoming projects, his history with our magazine, and advice for emerging writers in our Q&A below.


Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind “Mr. Death Goes to the Beach”?

JD: This is one of those short stories that just sort of slipped out of my unconscious. That rarely happens, and I’m sure it has something to do with the death of my dear friend Gardner Dozois. I remember waking up from a night of bad dreams, one of those exhausting, seemingly sleepless nights; and as I propped myself up in the bed, I imagined the idea of death as the personification of a harried bureaucrat. And this combined with the ocean and the beach, which I associate with comfort, freedom, and . . . fear: the idea of drowning, of the pull of deep water, that sort of thing.

 


. . . I imagined the idea of death as the personification of a harried bureaucrat.


 

Over the next few days, I kept thinking about death, my image of “him”; and as I did so, the so-called texture of the image took on the coloration of a deadly story I admire by J. D. Salinger: “A Perfect Day For Bananafish.” It’s a mood-piece of a story with an ending that shocked the hell out of me. I knew “Mr. Death Goes to the Beach” wasn’t going to have that kind of a shock ending, but I wanted to contrast the quiet joys of peace and relaxation with the undeniable finality of sudden death. I wanted to create a story that would be warm and familiar . . . so warm and familiar that it would chill like an ice-cube dropped into the collar of an unsuspecting bather. Whether I accomplished any of this will have to be determined by my readers.

So I think—and this is just a bit of pop-psychological self-analysis—that “Mr. Death Goes to the Beach” was this writer’s natural way of working out grief and guilt and all those subterranean emotions that accompany the death of a loved one. Dunno. Sounds plausible, anyway.

AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?

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About Those Robots

This throw-back Thursday brings a piece from Herb Kauderer on his poem “Ghosts of Robots” (see end for poem) that appeared in our September/October 2018 issue. Herb is uniquely qualified for this post about robots, as he worked with industrial robots in the eighties—read on for a fascinating view of robots both real and SFnal.


 

by Herb Kauderer

I spent the 1980s working with touch screen computers and industrial robots, things that seemed impossibly futuristic in that long ago era when smartphones and Roombas were still decades away.  This was part of twenty years I spent as a Teamster, during which my natural abilities with technology provoked my employers to toss me the keys to a wide array of very expensive contraptions.  Yes, I’ve driven tractor-trailers and tank trucks and tow motors of every variety, but I’ve also used hand-held scanning computers, multi-million dollar pasteurization units, and automated pipe-cleaning systems that handled more than a mile of pipe at a time.

I retired from all that to become an English professor, which certainly caused some cognitive dissonance, but also provided an unusual vantage point from which to consider the role of robots in literature, as compared to their real appearance in factories.  Back in the eighties, the industry defined robots as machines that made decisions of sufficient complexity without human input.  There was occasional discussion of where the cut-off line was but such things are difficult to make hard and fast.  The industry generally agreed on what was robotic, and what was merely mechanical, even if they couldn’t clearly define the difference.  In the bulk of the science fiction I’ve read, decision-making was the province of Artificial Intelligences which were often stationary, and sometimes presented as immoveable.  When I think of Multivac in Isaac Asimov’s stories, especially “The Last Question,” I imagine a monolithic computer that humans approach with questions.  Despite my impression of Multivac, it is not lost on me that Asimov placed the story at the end of the ‘Robots’ section of Opus 100.  Dividing artificial intelligence and robotics is difficult, and this discussion is partly of perception rather than reality, so let me clearly state: I am writing about what industry called robots when I worked with them.  They were not AI in any way.  Furthermore, all my generalizations about SF are based on my subjective consumption, admittedly voracious but far from comprehensive, of books, magazines, television and film.  You may have a different experience base.

 


Perhaps the most interesting example of robots and robot multitasking was a whole room that was a robot.


 

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Q&A with William F. Wu

The delightful William F. Wu visits the blog today to chat about his current story on sale now— “Written in Mud” —as well as give advice for up-and-coming writers, discuss his literary themes, and (perhaps!) taunt us with the exclusive novel he is reading right now….


What is the story behind this piece?

“Written in Mud” is a light-hearted story based on a friendship of thirty-six years between writer Rob Chilson and myself. In the 1980s and ’90s, we often traveled to science fiction conventions together, rented a house together for a short time in Kansas City, Missouri, and wrote ten collaborations of science fiction short pieces that were published. The title plays off one of my favorite stories of his, a serious time travel story called “Written in Sand,” which appeared in the December 1979 issue of Asimov’s. We had not yet become friends at that time. In fact, “Written in Mud” incorporates the titles, or references to the titles, of many of his published novels and short works in both the narration and dialogue. This gimmick only works if the story holds together for readers who aren’t familiar with the references or don’t care about them; I believe it does so and I hope it’s fun for readers who enjoy this sort of thing. The story also has references to all ten of our collaborations, one story of mine, and some by two women writers we’ve known for many years.

How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

This story came together suddenly, though it brings together information I had collected over decades. I was born in Missouri and grew up in Kansas, so I noticed the title of one of Rob’s novels, The Shores of Kansas, when it was published in 1976 even though we had not met yet. As it happens, I didn’t read it, but I never forgot it, given the obvious: Kansas is a long way from a salt water shore—and yet, that wasn’t always the case, as recently as the Cretaceous period. (It’s science fiction; “recent” is relative, right?)


Kansas is a long way from a salt water shore—and yet, that wasn’t always the case, as recently as the Cretaceous period. (It’s science fiction; “recent” is relative, right?)


Several years ago, I read that fracking in Oklahoma was causing earthquakes in that state. That started me thinking about the earthquake faults in Missouri and Kansas, which aren’t often in the news. That combined with my memory of the University of Kansas sports cheer “Rock chalk, Jayhawk!” that references certain Cretaceous-age bedrock formed under the Western Interior Sea. Continue reading “Q&A with William F. Wu”