The Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction & Fantasy Writing – 2020

This year’s Dell Magazines presentation was held via Zoom on Saturday, March 21st at 7 p.m. EDT. Enjoy this video of award-winner Rona Wang reading her story “Imitation Game.”


The International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts and Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine have named Rona Wang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology the winner of the 2020 Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing, for the story, “Imitation Game.”

Rona Wang

Rona Wang

First Runner-up for the 2020 award is Cyrus Lloyd of Vanderbilt University for the story, “The Death of F209-5.”

Cyrus Lloyd big.jpg

Cyrus Lloyd

Second Runner-up for the 2020 is a tie between Kaley Mamo of Columbia University for her story, “The Bendix Diner,” and Wenmimareba Klobah Collins of the University of Puerto Rico–Rio Piedras Campus for the story, “Journey From Middle to Nowhere.”

Kaley Mamo

Kaley Mamo

Third Runner-up for the 2020 award is Grace Yang of Indiana University—Bloomington for the story, “Dragon Fall.”


Grace Yang

Honorable Mentions for the 2020 award go to Clair Spaulding of Columbia University for the story, “Halfsies,” Alexandra Rose Nagele of the University of Pennsylvania for the story, “Cell Culture,” Moe Kirkpatrick of the University of British Columbia for the story, “Ode to Andromeda,” C.E. McGill of North Carolina State University for the story, “Things to Bring, Things to Burn, Things Best Left Behind,” and M.H. Chau of Brown University for the story, “The Last Deer in Heaven.”


Claire Spaulding


Alexandra Rose Nagele

Charlie McGil

C.E. McGill


The deadline for submissions for the 2021 Dell Magazines Award is 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, January 5, 2021. Submissions should be made through the award’s website at The award also has a site on Facebook. For more information or submission guidelines contact Award Director Dr. Rick Wilber ( or see the magazine’s website.

The International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts is a worldwide network of scholars, educators, writers, artists, filmmakers, critics, editors, publishers, and performers who share an interest in studying and celebrating the fantastic in all artforms, disciplines and media: literature, art, film, drama, music, philosophy, religion, the sciences, popular culture, and interdisciplinary areas. IAFA publishes an interdisciplinary quarterly, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, the IAFA Newsletter, and an annual IAFA Membership Directory. IAFA also sponsors and organizes the annual International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA), which hosts the world’s broadest and largest selection of scholarly papers on the fantastic and has become the major forum for the exchange of ideas and dissemination of scholarship on the fantastic.

The Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing is co-sponsored by Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts and supported by Western Colorado University’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing, Low-Residency MA and MFA, Genre Fiction Concentration.



Q&A with Garrett Ashley

Garrett Ashley counts mold and decomposition among his sources of writing inspiration. This is reflected in his unsettling story “Skin” [in our March/April issue on sale now]. Below, Garrett discusses his literary influences, “Skin”‘s origins, and its transformation into a longer manuscript.

Asimov’s Editor: How did “Skin” germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

GA: Normally, when I get the spark to write something, I’m able to do it quickly, but I’m currently teaching classes and finishing a PhD, so I’ll take any time I can get these days.

As for inspiration, I love working with prompts. Give me a weird prompt, and I can at the very least get words on paper—good or bad. “Skin” began with a prompt. I wish I could remember what it was exactly: something about a stranger on a bus. There’s a scene on a bus roughly midway through “Skin” that I had so much fun writing I decided to do more with it. That means I had to write in both directions from the original material I’d started with. This sort of thing is painful to me, so it took me a few months to get the story right.

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?

GA: I think the characters in this story and many of the stories I write think as I would think, do as I’d do—maybe if I were a lot braver. I do try to push away from making my characters look/feel too much like myself, in any case. It gets boring writing about myself all the time.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?

GA: I’m really bad at titles. I remember hearing Ray Bradbury speak about planning his stories—he liked to start with titles. He’d make a list of them and create stories around his titles. I wish I could do that. This story is about synthetic “skin,” so I titled it that way because I had no idea what else to call it.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?

GA: My favorite weird writer to ever blow my mind is Tatyana Tolstaya. I wish I had written The Slynx. Anyone who is able to inject weirdness into their work not just for the sake of weirdness, but to have it move the story the way Tolstaya does, is super inspiring. I’m also really into Romana Ausubel, although I haven’t been able to read her new collection of stories yet. Aside from reading inspirations, I love dioramas, models, maps, food, plants, mold, decomposition.


It took me a long time to realize that characterization doesn’t belong just to people.


AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing?

GA: Animals, our relationship with the natural world, etc. To add to my list of inspirations, Sharona Muir’s Invisible Beasts really changed the way I wanted to incorporate non-humanity into my writing. It took me a long time to realize that characterization doesn’t belong just to people.

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

GA: I have a shelf with a dozen or so books that I’ll turn to for writing energy. Maybe I’ll pick up random books and read all the first sentences and get inspiration that way. I think my problem, too, is that slow days are usually rooted in the sentence level.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

GA: In addition to finishing my dissertation (hopefully it’ll be defended by the time this comes out), I’m turning “Skin” into a longer manuscript. To be honest, having this piece taken by Asimov’s was incredibly validating to me—I want to explore more of the world these characters inhabit, and I’ve always hated the feeling of being done with something once it’s gone through the submissions process. I’ve been able to stick with this manuscript the longest of all the work I’ve started, and I should be done with it by the summer. I wrote a scene recently featuring a colony of mold under a house: the mold is studying a woman living there, preparing to become human itself. This is some of the most fun writing I’ve ever done, and hopefully it’ll work for whomever I can trick into reading it first.

 AE: What are you reading right now? What do you want to read?

GA: Journals, mostly, when I’m not doing school-related reading. Recent fun reading includes Anne Carson’s Nox and Micah Hicks’s Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones, which is an incredible book. In addition to my writer’s block shelf, I have a “to read” shelf, which includes Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station, Famous Men Who Never Lived by K. Chess, and Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic.

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?

GA: There are a couple things I wish I would have been told at an early stage: One, don’t get too hung up on subgenre, literary vs. speculative, etc. Write what you want to write, and if you have a reader or two that thinks it might be categorized as science fiction, or fantasy, or whatever, then you can try submitting it as such. I’ve never had much success with starting in on a project with a particular subgenre in mind.

And two, break the ice on submissions early, and get your first rejection out of the way. Don’t keep working on something until it’s dead and you’re out of energy and love. I know a few people who’ve done that.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

GA: I can be found on Twitter @GAAshley1. I’m also building a website at

Garrett Ashley’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming at Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Sonora Review, Reed Magazine, and DIAGRAM, among others. The short fiction collection in which “Skin” appears, My Grandfather Ran Off to the Woods, was a semifinalist at The Journal‘s 2019 Non/Fiction Collection Prize. He’s currently working on a novel.

Q&A with Nancy Kress

“Semper Augustus” [in our March/April issue on sale now] continues Nancy Kress’s decades-long tradition of writing about economic disturbances caused by automation. Read on to learn how the story also connects to tulips, how Nancy can tell when a story in progress has taken a wrong turn, and what her ideal society looks like.


Asimov’s Editor: How did “Semper Augustus” germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

NK: Any piece of fiction has multiple sources. In one way, everything a writer has ever experienced, read, seen, or heard is a source, in that these things stock the deep well of the mind from which stories flow. But that’s a pretty general statement, isn’t it? For this story specifically, I was concerned with the condition of the United States right now. We have greater, and nastier, political divides than I have ever seen before. We have enormous income inequality. We have increasing automation putting people out of well-paying jobs, and that is likely to increase.

I wanted to write a story about these things, and I wanted in particular to make the fictional situation as complex as real life can be. Revolution—as history shows us—can start by aiming for justice but also include leaders more interested in power than justice. Aristocrats, as history also shows us, may disdain and exploit those on the bottom of the socioeconomic heap, but exploiters are not one-dimensional: they have personal lives, affections, fears and failures. I don’t like fiction with unnuanced villains or heroic paragons. It feels false to reality.

As Jennie moves through various strata of society, she sees all of this complexity. She learns from it. Initially, I thought Cora might be the protagonist. But as the story grew—slowly—I learned more about what I wanted to say. Cora isn’t really capable of learning. Her daughter is. So Jennie became my focus.

And the tulips? I’m fascinated by the stock-market-like frenzy over trading tulip futures in 1600s Holland. It was so bizarre—future tulip bulbs, those that promised to be “broken” into new color patterns, sold for today’s equivalent of thousands of dollars. And the new colors were the result of a virus that eventually wrecked the plants! Unknowingly, the tulip madness was rewarding disease. There was my metaphor.

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

NK: The novella is very much a stand-alone, but it does have an antecedent. In 2017 I published a story called “Dear Sarah,” in Jonathan Strahan’s anthology Infinity Wars. The background of that story was the same as that of “Semper Augustus:” a country whose economy becomes concentrated in the few who could exploit advanced alien technology, with a resulting revolution by the poor and militant. The protagonist of “Dear Sarah,” however, is a far different person from Jennie, and she makes far different choices.

In another sense, even my novel Beggars in Spain is connected to these stories, in that since the 1990s I’ve been writing about economic disturbances caused by automation.

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?

NK: Weirdly, I relate to Gran. She’s a bad mother (which I hope I was not), a marginally better grandmother, harsh and controlling. But she does the best she can in impossible circumstances, and the central piece of advice she gives Grace, Cora, and Jennie is as true as anything I know: “Do what you have to, but be prepared for the shit you get doing it.” A definition, in its own way, of heroism.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?

NK: I am not good at titles. Usually my husband, writer Jack Skillingstead, ends up titling my work for me. But in this case, the name of the most famous tulip in the 1600s frenzy, the red-streaked Semper Augustus, fit the story. “Always Augustus”—but nothing is forever. Especially not society as we think we know it at any given moment.

. . . the central piece of advice [Gran] gives Grace, Cora, and Jennie is as true as anything I know: “Do what you have to, but be prepared for the shit you get doing it.” A definition, in its own way, of heroism.


AE: What is your process?

NK: I usually start with just an initial scene and a general set-up, often involving some sort of technology. That might be genetic engineering (it often is), automation, some weird alien tech I’ve dreamed up. The first scene, with a character clear in my mind, comes to me all at once, and I write the scene very quickly. If I’m lucky, the second scene also occurs to me, and I write that equally quickly (this is what happened with “Semper Augustus.”) Then I pause and begin the real work of thinking through the implications of what I’ve written. Who are these people? What do they want? What do they have to do to get it? What effect would this tech have on their society? What ideas do I want to explore here?

Then I write, much more slowly, trying to feel my way through the story by feeling my way into the characters. I know the general direction I’m going, but not the specific ending. That occurs to me, usually, about half way through, which means extensive rewriting of the first half.

All this writing and rewriting, incidentally, takes place beginning early each morning. I am very much a morning person. If it doesn’t get written by noon, it doesn’t get written. At least, not that day.

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

NK: I don’t get blocked, per se. But sometimes I find that I’m reluctant to work on a story—oh! I must scrub the kitchen floor! Oh! I must write an email to my second cousin whom I haven’t seen in ten years! That’s usually a sign that the story has taken a wrong turn. I find the last scene where I felt no reluctance to write, because that’s where the story took a wrong turn. Then I replot from there, usually discarding what didn’t work. And cursing a lot at having to do so.

AE: How did you break into writing?

NK: The only way possible—by writing stories, sending them out, having them rejected, sending them out again, getting rejected . . . repeat until something sells. Meanwhile, I examined any personal note on a rejection slip with the scrutiny afforded a treasure map, trying to figure out what needed to be done differently. Feedback from a competent instructor can help this learning process go faster, which is why I now teach aspiring SF writers.

AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?

NK: I would like to live in Ursula LeGuin’s anarchistic society Anarres in her novel The Dispossessed. Not because I think anarchy can actually work (I don’t), but because in her novel it does work. Everything is shared, there is very little crime, and income inequality does not exist because income does not exist. Everyone can do their chosen work, or no work, without the energy-sucking distractions of juggling bills and time. The level of existence isn’t high, but it’s adequate, healthy, and technologically sophisticated. I would be willing to give up luxury for equality and solidarity.

Interestingly, when I taught The Dispossessed at the University of Leipzig, students in the former East Germany did not agree. When offered a hypothetical choice, only two students chose Anarres over the capitalistic and exploitive sister planet, Urras.

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?

NK: Self-driving cars. I am not a particularly good driver and I don’t like driving. Also, I’m still waiting for my personal jet pack.

AE: What are you reading right now?

NK: Andrew Yang’s The War On Normal People. His idea of a universal basic income was something I explored in Beggars In Spain. Yang has brought together in his book an enormous number of statistics, some personal experiences, and trenchant insights into class differences in the contemporary United States. And he writes well. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, but I’m interested.

 AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

NK: I was on Facebook, but during a period of illness I got away from it, and somehow never went back. I have a website but am woefully bad at keeping it up to date. I need to do better. I will. Maybe. Meanwhile, there’s always Amazon for my two forthcoming works, both out in May, 2020: a stand-alone novella, Sea Change (Tachyon) and a space-opera novel, The Eleventh Gate (Baen).

Nancy Kress is the author of thirty-three books, including twenty-six novels, four collections of short stories, and three books on writing. Her work has won six Nebulas, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Forthcoming in May, 2020, are a stand-alone novella, Sea Change (Tachyon) and an SF novel, The Eleventh Gate (Baen). Nancy’s fiction has been translated into Swedish, Danish, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Polish, Croatian, Chinese, Lithuanian, Romanian, Japanese, Korean, Hebrew, Russian, and Klingon, none of which she can read. In addition to writing, Kress often teaches at various venues around the country and abroad, including a semester as guest lecturer at the University of Leipzig, an intensive workshop in Beijing, and the annual two-week workshop Taos Toolbox, which she teaches with Walter Jon Williams. Kress lives in Seattle with her husband, writer Jack Skillingstead.

A Walk on Crete

by Neal Asher


I wake up early in the morning, put on my shorts and T-shirt, and head out into the kitchen living area. A glance out of the small window through the two-feet-thick stone wall reveals the bright lime-wash painted houses of the village, but only because the street lamp up at the top here seems to have a halogen bulb. It’s still dark beyond its reach. I make a cup of tea and sit at my desk. My body aches and I feel slightly nauseated. The former is because of the six-mile kayak run I did along the Cretan south coast through the Libyan Sea. The latter is because, at the best of times, ice cold Mythos beer served in a frozen glass is difficult to resist after such exercise, but I’d also got a nice email while down at the coast. It seems I not only have a story coming out in Asimov’s [“An Alien on Crete,” in our Jan/Feb issue on sale now] but now a novella in Analog. I count up, sip my tea. Is it four or five taken since I started again to write short stories?

With my present physical state I consider forgetting about the walk and making this a rest day—well, until the kayaking—but reject the idea. Finishing my tea, I check out the window again. A hint of division between sky and village now? Maybe. I make a cup of fresh coffee, sit down again, and pull on my walking trainers, puff on my e-cig. After that I pick up my iPad almost by instinct, but again remember I have no internet up here. I really don’t need the distraction, and am getting more done without it. Putting it down again, I look across at my other desk, my work desk. It’s empty of all but pens and stray paper because I hide the laptop away in case someone breaks in. Not that such stuff happens here very much. The danger of burglary is much greater in the UK. My present “short story” is not so short anymore, having just passed ten thousand words. I’ll need to think about what to do with it. I rattle my fingers on this desk—my dead wife’s desk where she used to do her thing—then stand up and check outside again. Maybe it will be light enough by the time I finish my coffee. Stupid to go stumbling about on the rocky tracks through the mountains in the dark. I fear the thought of twisting an ankle and not being able to walk.

I check my supplies: some tissues, and a plaster to go on one blistered toe should the one already on there come off. Even though I’ll be walking for eight plus miles with the temperature heading up to thirty, I don’t take water. Never really felt the need. I went gorge-walking with some people once who said I must carry litres of water. I took about half of what they suggested, and spent much of the gorge walk nipping behind rocks to urinate.

It’s a few minutes before 6:00 a.m. Something like OCD—or perhaps it is OCD—kicks in, and I gulp coffee, pick up my key, and am out of the door on the dot of 6:00. This is supposedly so I will know how long the walk has taken me, but I never check the time when I get back. I schlep up the path from my house, past where my car is parked by a big ugly new house being built, walk up a steep road with olive trees on my left and broom and fig on my right. Even as I reach the top of this, there is enough light for the dense yellow flowers of the broom to be painfully bright. At the top of the road I can see the lights of Sitia and the sea off the North coast. A track from the corner takes me down through olive groves, up past a market garden, then to the track up the hill. I’m warming up and the aches are fading, but still I feel some trepidation about what lies ahead. At the top of the mountain are wind turbines. The track going up has been concreted in places to stop it sliding away because it is so steep. I liken it to climbing about thirty staircases.

I stomp up, slowly, but never stopping. Lungs soon start going like a compressor even though I am walking slowly. Olive trees are everywhere; also the thorny scrub that is the reason for Cretan national dress including thick knee-high boots. By the time I reach halfway, I’m pouring sweat, and take off my shirt. At the top it is cooler below the steady whoomphing of the turbines. Leaning on his stick, a shepherd watches me from a promontory, and I see sheep coming down the track. I change course to take another route because the sheep will run away from me, and then he’ll have a bugger of a job rounding them up.

“Kalimera,” I say.

“Yaa,” he replies after a pause, as if speech is something that has escaped him up here.

After a long walk under turbines, the sun breaking over the mountains in clear blue sky, I come to the turning that will take me down. I remember seeing, in a glance, something bright green here and thinking some idiot had thrown down some rubbish. Closer inspection revealed a bright green lizard over a foot long with a snake wrapped around it. The lizard’s head was in its mouth. I watched for a while and the snake took fright, dropped its catch, and slid away. The lizard looked groggy but still alive. As I walked on I did not suppose he would live long, because surely the snake would be back.


Scribed in the white line at the edge of the road, in English, are the words “Never Stop Writing.”


I head down again. I can now see the landscape laid out below: the market gardens, vineyards, the clustered white houses of Handras, and the rocky mount with its ruins that is my turn around point. That’s Voila, pronounced “Voyla,” and the ruins are of the Tower of Tzen Ali—some Turkish bigwig of the Ottoman Empire. On the way down to the roads that lead there, I pass a monument: a flat slab of marble with a chain fence around it and a marble monolith at the centre. It is on a rough mountain slope with nothing else around but scrub and sheep. I read the words with my mediocre Greek, but only later hear the story. It’s for a guy who was a school teacher when the German army invaded. He became part of the Cretan resistance and was captured. The Nazis tortured him and buried him alive.

Through a small pine grove, I reach the roads again and start heading round to Voila. As always, at the turning that takes me back there, I pause and look down at the white line beside the road. I believe in nothing supernatural, but sometimes things happen in your life that are weird, to say the least. After my wife died, I walked and walked. One day I felt particularly bad and decided to walk until I felt better or collapsed. The point when I did feel better was right here. I stopped and looked down. Scribed in the white line at the edge of the road, in English, are the words “Never Stop Writing.” I’m pretty sure it relates to white line writing, maybe a stencil in the machine, maybe something the people who paint the lines put down every now and again for whatever reason, maybe something someone else wrote—again for whatever reason. But bloody hell, they were some of the last words my wife said to me before she died.

I walk on, past more olive trees, vineyards, market gardens, past where a spring had been routed through ancient stonework like something straight out of C.S. Lewis, and then on past Voila itself. Ruins are ruins—fallen stone walls—but the tower itself is interesting. Off to one side is a church, the door always open, icons and other paraphernalia inside probably hundreds of years old. A dish scattered with money where people have paid for the candles they’ve lit. Not something I would see in Essex.

Next through Handras. Old Greek houses are here, many of them now stripped of their layer of concrete to expose the stone. Beautified. Narrow streets lead off in every direction. Dogs bark, trees are laden with oranges and lemons, and nearly every small garden or yard is a paradise of perfect plants. Another track beyond takes me past more of the local agriculture, past rusted water pump windmills devoid of their canvas sails, their water cisterns sitting nearby, past quince trees that produce rock hard fruit the size of apples. Along here, later in the year, I will be able to sample five to ten different varieties of grape as I walk. They grow in the edges like blackberries in the UK. Armeni is next, another quaint village. I walk out past a yard I remember. Here I saw a jolly fat woman in a frilly apron cradling a rabbit. It seemed a scene out of Beatrix Potter until she snapped the rabbit’s neck.

Another track, past fig trees that will later produce delicious black figs. The cicadas are screaming now. I once considered writing a book about adventures on Crete and titling it “Cicada Scream.” Double meaning there, because yes, it describes the noise, but it also describes just how crazy things can get here in the hot months. On further tracks I am glad of my sunglasses as cicadas bombard me and there are so many one is sure to hit me in the eye. I feel little splashes of liquid, too, as they piss on me.

Beautiful gorge on the left, winding tracks, careful now because I am tired and the loose rock on the tracks can be treacherous. I pass more gardens, low down. Someone is turning on the water for his olives. Black water pipes strew the ground in every direction. Pear trees on my right, but they are not ready yet. I go up past Agios Yorgos (Saint George’s) and am on the track for home. It is yet another beautiful little building on this island where you can point a camera and click in any direction and have a postcard picture.

Finally I stomp down the road to home, and again forget to check how long this walk took me. A frappe seems in order and I enjoy that while I cool down. Next a shower—sweat-soaked clothing into the washing basket—and in clean clothes, I consider the rest of my day. It will be the same as yesterday and the day before, and it will be the same tomorrow. I stoop down and take my laptop from its hiding place, put it on the desk and turn it on. Writerly procrastination sends me off to make a cup of tea, but then I sit down, open the laptop, and begin.


Neal Asher <> has had numerous short stories and twenty-six books published. His most recent American publications include the first two volumes in his Rise of the Jain series: The Warship (2019) and The Soldier (2018). Both books are from Nightshade. Before becoming a full-time writer, Neal was an engineer, barman, skip lorry driver, coalman, boat window manufacturer, contract grass cutter, and builder. The author tells us, “I’ve been an SF and fantasy junky ever since having my mind distorted at an early age by J.R.R. Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and E.C. Tubb.” He lives sometimes in England, sometimes in Crete. Neal’s last tale for Asimov’s, “Memories of Earth,” appeared in our October/November 2013 issue. After too long an absence, he’s back with an unsettling tale.

Q&A with B.S. Donovan

Self-driving cars may have been the spark of inspiration for B.S. Donovan’s first story for Asimov’s [in our Jan/Feb issue, on sale now], but “You’ll Live” itself is driven by its characters. Read on for B.S.’s thoughts on people-centered science fiction, the importance of plotting things out, and why “You’ll Live”’s title is key to the story.

Asimov’s Editor: How did this story germinate?

BSD: It started with self-driving cars, actually. And it veered off from there. I think that when we have real self-driving cars, our lives will be very different. And I don’t just mean that it will be easier to get to work. Since we won’t have anything to do when in the car, we will use it more like a living space. People will pass their time like they would anywhere else, if they’re stuck in the space together and have nothing else to do. A particularly friendly couple will use the opportunity to get busy. Kids will watch TV or play games. This led me to think about what it would be like to be a family together, living in a car. It all kind of went downhill from there.

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?

BSD: Not exactly, but partly. I don’t think I could have written this story ten years ago. I relate to the protagonist indirectly through my children. I’m a father of two wonderful girls who fight and argue with each other. They also laugh and play together. And despite how much they annoy each other, there are moments when you can see just how fiercely they care for each other. When they were in elementary school, they’d share futons on the floor (we live in Japan), and one of them, usually the little one, would end up facing the wrong way and extending a foot into her sister’s armpit, or even under her chin. It wasn’t exactly that moment that inspired the story. But, as a father, I know what it’s like to see kids sprawled together like puppies under blankets, not knowing which hand belongs to which kid, and worrying whether someone is going to wake up with a bloody nose because of a heel to the face.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?

BSD: It came to me as I was writing the fourth paragraph. When I was a kid, like all kids, when I wanted something, I’d say, “I need it.” To which my parents would always answer, “Unless you’re about to die, you don’t need it. You just want it.” Which is true. As an adult with my own children, I can genuinely say that I’m glad that they took the time to reason with me. But to the kid me, it was not only annoying, but clearly false. Just listen to my voice and you’ll know that I might actually die in the next twenty seconds if I don’t actually get what I want because I need it so much. And yes, my folks did tell me, “You’ll live.” And they were right, as evidenced by the words you’re reading now.

Because the title really is the story. Without those words, the story is only just a commentary on a future that is all too possible and too sad to write about without some redemption. The title is the beginning. The title is in the middle. It is the end. It serves as bookmarks for how things change in the story. The end hopefully makes it worth enduring the pain that you imagine right along with them.


Nine times out of ten, if I just synopsize, then I can continue. I get tired, just like anyone. But if I can paint a simple picture in a few words, then it’s like I just have to color it in. Like sketching something before painting it.


AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this story?

BSD: A very good friend of mine, who is also a writer and also one of my go-to alpha readers, gave me some feedback on the story early on. He is a hard science fiction fan, and he commented that the story could have been set in any time period or setting. While I disagree a little bit (the setting is another character, I think, perhaps more than the boyfriend/father figure of Rich), the comment told me I was on the right track, which is that the story is about the people. It is about our hero and his brother, Greg. That’s the story. Not the self-driving car, not the VR, nor the stims or seds. It’s about the characters.

What attracts me to Asimov’s is just that: the stories are about people. And how we struggle, or love, or fight, or deal with the fantastical worlds that the authors dream. And that’s why I thought of Asimov’s first.

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?

BSD: Interesting question; in this case, it impacted me a lot. The current political and economic situation in the states drove me to wonder what would happen if we continued on this trajectory. What would happen if the 1%-ers replaced all workers and we all went on welfare? That said, I believe that there’s a lot more to our subconscious than just current events. And I’m never sure what event (current or otherwise) is going to spark an idea.

AE: What is your process?

BSD: I am what they call a plotter. I discovered this after trying to be a pantser for a couple of years. For those of you who don’t know, a plotter is someone who plots out a story in advance. A pantser is someone who flies by the seat of their pants (thus pantser). As a pantser, I can get a thousand words onto a page without problems. Beyond that, my subconscious stops working. And if I don’t know where I’m going, then I get bogged down. I found that if I can write a synopsis of my story (of whatever length), then I can write much better, faster, stronger than I could otherwise. So now I plot (or at least synopsize).

I need to really know where I want to go with a story in order to start writing. I need to have a scene in my head, a character, a direction. And that is what allows me to let the words come out. From there, things come together—like the title I wrote about above, and the ending.

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

BSD: I plot. LOL. Seriously, though. Nine times out of ten, if I just synopsize, then I can continue. I get tired, just like anyone. But if I can paint a simple picture in a few words, then it’s like I just have to color it in. Like sketching something before painting it.

Also, I write longhand. I didn’t used to do that either. But I discovered that the words come out better with a pen in my hand. Yes, I can type. Pretty well, too. I save that for later drafts.

AE: What are you reading right now?

BSD: I’m reading a couple of things. I like science fiction, of course, but I also enjoy thriller, noir, horror, lots of stuff. Specifically, I’m reading Richard Stark’s Parker books, Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and Martha Wells’s Murderbot stories (awesome!).

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?

BSD: I have been a bunch of things. A bartender, a high school teacher, a finance manager, and (even now) a logistics manager. How they affect my writing is simple, but not what you might imagine. My work life is driven by, well, work. And at some point there needs to be something else. I reached a point where if I had to write one more capital expenditure request, I thought I might explode. I started to study Japanese calligraphy, which is intensely rewarding and about as hard as it looks. And then I found a writers’ group with amazing people, and there you are.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

BSD: I dislike Twitter. I think it is a dark place. I rarely use Facebook. It is a falsely bright place. I have a blog, which is old-fashioned, and you are more than welcome to follow. You can see my calligraphy and read about me, my stories, and how great Japan is, at

B.S. Donovan has been a bar tender, English teacher, finance controller, and logistics manager. But his passions are fiction and art. Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, he currently resides in Chiba, Japan. In addition to writing fiction, he practices Japanese calligraphy. In his poignant first story for Asimov’s, two young boys learn to appreciate their mom’s sad, wry observations.

Q&A with Doug C. Souza

For Doug C. Souza, writing offers the opportunity to make connections. He took the time to talk to us about connecting with readers, writing connected stories within a larger universe, and how “The Kaleidoscope City” [in our Jan/Feb issue, on sale now] approaches familial connections in a world with lengthened lifespans.

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

DCS: “The Kaleidoscope City” is about soaking up time with loved ones. Not just in quantity, but with more of a focus on quality. The first nugget of this came about when I started to give my characters the necessary medical adaptations so they could survive extended space travel and living on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Once the characters started interacting with the world I created, I noticed how much longer they lived, and I wondered how this would affect relationships within a family.

Would people put things off more frequently if they had more time to live? If so, how would they face the realization that they could’ve simply hung out more with friends and family instead of always looking down the road?

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

DCS: My wife tells me most of my stories are connected whether I intend it or not. Looking at “The Kaleidoscope City,” I definitely see it existing in the same universe as “The Callisto Stakes” (a story that appeared in Asimov’s about a year ago). Fortunately, things have improved within my most recent story, so that’s good news for the folks living there. One of my most trusted beta readers continues to point out the shared universe of my stories whenever I mention putting an anthology together. It’s a fun puzzle to toy with.

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?

DCS: The weird thing with “The Kaleidoscope City” is that I started it from the viewpoint of Lynette, as the kid hanging out with their father. Once I sent the first draft out to my beta readers, it was brought to my attention that the father in the story has a unique perspective. I was stoked when this facet connected with readers in a way I hadn’t anticipated. As a writer, it’s always my greatest hope to make that kind of connection.

If you sell one story a year, or twenty, it’s the connection you make by sharing something sacred that feeds the need to continue. Even if it’s just one person in a local writing group that pulls you aside to share what your story meant to them—that’s gotta be celebrated.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?

DCS: I’m everywhere with influences and inspirations. One month, I might be hooked on Louis L’Amour, and the next jumping into some graphic novels. I tried A Man Called Ove by chance and had a blast. It’s outside my usual genre of interest.

Recently, I’ve gone back to Ray Bradbury to feel some heart in stories. I also like reading what he has to say about writing. I connect with writers that recommend writing a lot for the enjoyment while keeping the reader in mind. One of the biggest challenges a writer faces is staying focused on their purpose. Success in selling stories can be a double-edged sword in which you start examining your stories to see what made them marketable while others failed. Falling into that trap can mess with your head when you’re trying to write your next story. This might just be my own problem, who knows?

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?

DCS: It’s cliché, but I gotta say, “Don’t give up.” Or maybe, “You’re the only one that can stop you.” I’ve had some huge successes in my writing career that I never thought I’d enjoy. I’ve also had some low times, where a story sale felt like a lost cause. Nearly every successful writer I’ve met doesn’t have a secret to how they sold their stories—it’s mostly, “I just kept writing and submitting.”

Whenever I’m at a lull for story sales, I remind myself of the hot-streak that usually comes after the slow times. Now, for some, they may not call it a “hot-streak,” I can’t judge for others what a success is. Maybe the lack of sales allows me to get back to writing for myself and not lose focus. One constant is true: nothing happens until you put your butt in the chair and write.

If you sell one story a year, or twenty, it’s the connection you make by sharing something sacred that feeds the need to continue. Even if it’s just one person in a local writing group that pulls you aside to share what your story meant to them—that’s gotta be celebrated. I’ve had writers email me who were just starting out, and yes, their stories were a bit messy, that’s part of it. Some gave up; some kept hammering away. Those that put in the work to clear up their message—well, it’s so cool to see them reach new levels. I can’t share their personal details, but just last month one of them placed in an international contest for the second time.

So bottom line: stay at it!

AE: What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?

DCS: As a teacher, I’ve noticed kids aren’t reading as much as they used to. Those that do love getting lost in a story the way one can only by reading. Since I don’t develop video games or make movies, I remind myself that writing is a privilege few take advantage of. The tools don’t cost much and the resources can be found at your local library or thrift store. Yeah, it’d be easier to have my stories made into the type of media that’s easier to consume, but then it’d lose something.

When a person takes the time to read a story of mine, I get the opportunity to pull them all the way in for the ride. Knowing that gives me the extra boost of energy when the words won’t come or the characters are stuck.

That being said, I’m not above a multi-million-dollar contract.

Doug C. Souza can be found at and on Facebook. He lives in California with his family.

Getting to Know Sheila Finch

For “Not This Tide” [in our Jan/Feb issue, on sale now], Sheila Finch drew on her childhood in war-torn London, and on research enabled by the magic of librarians. Below, she delves into her history with this story, as well as her history with the wider world of literature.

I grew up in London during World War Two, which means I was there throughout the almost nightly bombing raids on the city. I don’t know why I wasn’t evacuated to the safer countryside as so many children were; all I know is there were a lot of children still in the city, and schools were open until they were damaged by bombs. After a while, there were no neighborhood schools open where I lived, so that meant I spent a lot of time with no schooling at all. Right after the war ended, I would’ve told you that I had no lingering bad effects from growing up in a war zone, but the disruption of marriage and moving to Indiana to attend grad school brought some episodes of traumatic memories which I learned to cope with. Friends often asked why I didn’t write about my childhood experiences, but I couldn’t see how to use them.

Then one morning after my oldest daughter and I had spent the previous evening looking at my father’s war record in the Royal Artillery, I found the beginnings of this story in my mind. The first thing I did was give myself a sister I never had, to make sure the story wouldn’t be entirely tied to the narrow plot of my own history (I’ll leave it to the reader to guess which events are from my experience and which belong to Rosemary Forrest). Then I settled in to research the history of the Maunsell Forts, Star Wars-like structures that served as anti-aircraft gun platforms in the English Channel.

At one point I almost gave up in frustration, because every source I found pointed to the same book of first-person recollections of soldiers’ lives on the fort—and I couldn’t locate the book. Just in time, a wonderful friend who happens to be a retired county librarian came to my rescue. There was one lonely copy of this book in the U.S., located in Harvard University’s Special Collection, and not allowed out. Never underestimate the magic of a librarian! The book came to a local county library, where I was allowed to study it for one whole day. It was a treasure trove of fascinating anecdotes and odd facts, many of which made their way into my pages. The title, “Not This Tide,” comes from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, one of the great poets of World War One, and a personal favorite of my father’s.


If you’re wondering how I broke in, I kept sending out my stories and getting rejected over and over, until one day I think an editor said, “Oh for heaven’s sake! Publish this woman’s story and be done with it!”


I always knew I was going to be a writer. I folded bits of paper and wrote “books” on them for my stuffed toys when I was quite young. And I read everything I could lay my hands on—still do. My parents had a good size collection of books which I made my way through, and family members gave me their old books along with their old clothes to be cut down to fit me (clothes were rationed too during the war, and for several years afterward). When the schools reopened, I was only a year away from the dreaded 11+ exam that sorted kids into college-prep schools or ones destined to deliver a workforce for business and industry. All that reading paid off, and I passed. When the library reopened, I devoured E. Nesbitt and Rudyard Kipling, H. Rider Haggard, and eventually John Buchan, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells. And a few years later, there was a marvelous comic book called EAGLE, full of science fiction stories.

When I wasn’t reading, I was writing—stories, plays, poems. Things haven’t changed much over the years. I still am happiest when I’m writing, though I admit, not at the frenzied pace of my youth where I could complete the first draft of a five thousand word story in a day, finally falling off the chair exhausted after six to eight hours of hard work. My reading today is broad-based, though I must admit to a weakness for suspense as well as science fiction—James Lee Burke and Michael Connelly are favorites, along with Elizabeth George and Daniel Silva. If you’re wondering how I broke in, I kept sending out my stories and getting rejected over and over, until one day I think an editor said, “Oh for heaven’s sake! Publish this woman’s story and be done with it!” Or something like that.

Writing doesn’t pay the bills, especially at first, so I spent a good deal of time on my second career as a teacher. My first experience was a class of second-graders in the East End of London, a mile down the road from the docklands setting for Call the Midwife. Then when I came to California, I found my niche in community colleges and did that for over thirty years. There’s a problem with teaching literature for a writer—and especially teaching creative writing. You become too fixated on technique and method and it tends to get in the way. One day, a fiction writing class challenged me to write a story week by week in class, following my own methods. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time, but it got me over that particular hump. If you haven’t already seen this story, you’ll be able to find “Miles To Go” in a collection of my published stories that I’m currently putting together.

What science fictional prediction would I like to see come true? The establishment of Utopia with world peace. Literary critics complain Utopia is dull, but I’m ready for a little peaceful boredom about now.

How I Wrote a Rondel About Time Travel

Marie Vibbert


My time travel poem [on sale in our current issue] started, appropriately enough, in 14th Century France.

I was researching another topic when I found the poet Eustache Deschamps and fell in love with his short, sardonic verses. His nickname was “The Morel” and he may have been dark-skinned like the morel mushroom.

Look at this poem by Deschamps and you’ll get a hint of his no-nonsense pessimism:


Fleas, stink, pigs, mold,
The gist of the Bohemian soul,
Bread and salted fish and cold.

Leeks, and cabbage three days old,
Smoked meat, as hard and black as coal;
Fleas, stink, pigs, mold.

Twenty eating from one bowl,
A bitter drink -it’s beer, I’m told-
Bad sleep on a straw in some filthy hole,
Fleas, stink, pigs, mold,
The gist of the Bohemian soul,
Bread and salted fish and cold.


One of the forms I really liked of his was the triolet. It was so compact and structured! So I set off, at first, to write a time travel triolet. (For the alliteration alone!)

The triolet consists of eight lines, with the first couplet repeating as the end and the first line repeating in the middle. So we get a rhyme scheme of:


A line one

B line two

a new line that rhymes with one

A line one

a new line that rhymes with one

b new line that rhymes with two

A line one

B line two


It may seem easy at first – the poem only has five unique lines with all the repeating. The skill of the triolet lies in fitting your meaning in so few words, much like a haiku. It’s especially thrilling to pick a line one whose meaning will change each time you repeat it. The triolet is almost always in iambic tetrameter:


x     /   x   / x   / x / Come live with me and be my love


Here is a period example by Froissart. Notice how he breaks the pattern a little by adding a spondee (two stressed beats—“Love, love”) to the front of his A line.


Jean Froissart (1337-1404)

Love, love, what wilt thou with this heart of mine?

Naught see I fixed or sure in thee!
I do not know thee,–nor what deeds are thine:
Love, love, what will though with this heart of mine?

Shall I be mute, or vows with prayers combine?

Ye who are blessed in loving, tell it me:
Love, love, what wilt thou with this heart of mine?
Naught see I permanent or sure in thee!


I love the irony of taking a medieval poetry form and using it to write poems for science fiction magazines. My first triolet was published in Asimov’s back in February 2015, and was titled, “An Unrequited Process Loops.” I thought the repeating refrain was perfect for reflecting the looping logic of a lovesick robot.

Wanting to do it again, I chose the title: “Unlooping: A Time Travel Rondel.” I figured time travel would be another great place to showcase repetition.

The first thing I have to do is write the A line, the lines that will repeat three times. The first line to come to me was:


What’s past is future is passed


I liked that the meaning of the line could be changed by interposing the two homonyms “passed” and “past.” What’s passed is future is past? I don’t know what it means exactly but I’m here for it!

But what could I pair it with? In “Unrequited” I had a great repeating pair:


Love is just a chemical in the brain

Outside the realm of the electronic


It started as a statement and ended as a question. I wanted something like that. So I wrote:


An unwanted time-travel catch

What’s past is future is passed.


Ooh, I liked it . . . but the thing was, my A and B are too close. . . . “Catch” and “passed” almost rhyme. Could I come up with three more lines that rhymed these two and still have a coherent story?

I started from the top. The fun thing about these forms is it that it can feel like filling in a crossword puzzle. You make yourself blanks and plop things in them. Okay, first draft, some lines to play off the couplet:


My life is a black vinyl record

Your life gave it a scratch


There’s a hint of loss? I like it. Let’s see what it’s like plugging in my repeats and filling in lines between:


My life is a black vinyl record

Your life gave it a scratch

Each year I skip on your cord

My life is a black vinyl record.

At least we’re moving forward (terrible rhyme forced in temporarily to match the A)

An unwanted time-travel catch (gotta use that! my b)

My life is a black vinyl record

Your life gave it a scratch.


That was my crappy first draft. I didn’t get my past is future line at all.

After several bad drafts that I read to my friends, I realized that . . . the triolet was just not happening. I went back to Eustache Deschamps and looked for inspiration in some of his poems. Far more often than the triolet, he wrote rondeau.

The rondel is a variation of the rondeau that has thirteen lines, two four-line stanzas and a final five-line stanza. The first two lines again repeat. (A triolet is sometimes called a rondel simple, the shortest form of this style.) In this version, the couplet repeats in the middle instead of just the first line, and the poem ends with the first line again. For a rhyme scheme of: ABba abAB abbaA

With more room to work I was able to put in all the lines I’d thought of and mess them around. I solidified the meter by reading aloud while slapping my knee. Removing a syllable, “My life, a black vinyl record,” got the stresses and unstresses lined up better. “Your life, it gave me this scratch.” Ooh, yeah we were getting rhythmic!

My new, stronger draft still felt wonky. The opening couplet didn’t work as a refrain. It made more sense as something happening once, with the rest of the repetition following. I really wanted “What’s past is future is passed” to be my refrain, and as a first line it was so dense as to be impenetrable. I decided to move the refrain to the end of the first stanza. It felt like lopping the rondel’s head off, but on reading this draft, I felt I’d done the right thing. I sent it off to Asimov’s, and here I am, writing a blog post about it!
Which is a long way of saying that playing with form can be an aid and a fight. You get to drop words into slots. You wrestle words into places. When the slots get too restrictive, well, there’s always the hammer and the blow torch!

So why write restrictive forms in the first place? One of the things I want in my poetry is to get away from myself, my habits and standard phrases. Fixed forms force that to happen.

I hope you enjoy my hacked rondel that started out as a triolet!


Besides selling thirty-five short stories, a dozen poems, and a few comics, Marie Vibbert has been a medieval (SCA) squire, ridden 17% of the roller coasters in the United States and has played O-line and D-line for the Cleveland Fusion women’s tackle football team.

Q&A with Mar Catherine Stratford

Influenced from an early age by kids’ books about the unsolved and zir relationship to gender, Mar Catherine Stratford loves a good mystery. This is obvious from zir enigmatic “Third Shift” [in our Jan/Feb issue, on sale now]. Below, ze discusses this story’s origins, working through writers’ block, and the authors who have inspired zir most.


Asimov’s Editor: How did this story germinate?

MCS: I was at the Denver Natural History Museum looking at a diorama of taxidermied animals, which included a rattlesnake, and thought, I should make a character named Rattlesnake. A few weeks later, I was taking a writing class that had us write a few paragraphs in a strong character voice. Mav’s voice came to me from that exercise, and from there it all kind of fell together.

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

MCS: I wrote this piece to be stand-alone, but I do have enough ideas about the larger conspiracies in this world, and how Mav, Rattlesnake, and Miguel grow and change after the story cuts off, so I’d like to revisit this world at some point!

Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?

MCS: Yes—all the characters in “Third Shift” are related to me in some way. When I began writing this story, I was working a job with odd hours and thinking a lot about how to leave that job, so those feelings went into Mav. I’m also a genderqueer person like Rattlesnake, and like Miguel, I’m a little bit of a political theory nerd.


I sometimes describe my writing as “stories about aliens except the aliens never actually show up.”


AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?

MCS: Charles de Lint’s Newford books have been immensely influential to me. Him, along with Holly Black and Francesca Lia Block, are the writers who introduced me to the idea that you could have a story set in contemporary America and still fill it with unusual experiences, so while these are writers whose work I encountered at a fairly young age, I’d say they’re still among my greatest influences.

Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?

I sometimes describe my writing as “stories about aliens except the aliens never actually show up.” This is to say that thematically, I’m very interested in mystery, and the impacts that mystery has on my characters, and aliens make a pretty good mystery. I think my interest in this theme comes from a few places, including the mysterious confusion I lived with for years as child and teen before understanding my gender identity, and a fourth grade obsession with this “Unsolved Mysteries for Kids” kind of book series.

What is your process?

I typically start working on a story with a few significant images all formed in my mind. Then, I put together an outline of the main beats in each scene, and from there typically work in a cycle of writing and revising.

How do you deal with writers’ block?

Talking it out with other writers—I’m lucky enough to be in the University of Arkansas creative writing MFA program with a number of really excellent, creative folks who can listen to me and suggest the kinds of big structural changes that often help me get unstuck.

What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading Kingdoms of Elfin by Sylvia Townsend Warner, which is a collection of short stories that combine the kind of New Yorker literary short story sensibility with fairies. It’s really incredible writing; thank you to the June 13, 2019 Strange Horizons book review that reccomended this collection!

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?

I think I’m still an up-and-coming writer, so I don’t know about advice for other people, but if I could give advice to myself when I was just starting to write fiction, I’d tell me to use outlines, and don’t be afraid to tell the reader what they need to know.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

I’m on Twitter @maricatmaricat, and my website is


Mar Catherine Stratford (ze/zir/zirs) is a fiction student at the University of Arkansas creative writing MFA program, and one-half of the team behind Swamphouse Press Zines. Additionally, ze is a foster parent to a fluctuating amount of kittens, and friend to all animals.

How to Read “Selfless”

by James Patrick Kelly


too much me

If, as I suspect, you are a frequent reader of Asimov’s, you probably know that I write a column there called “On The Net.” Ostensibly it’s about my continuing hunt for interesting websites about science and science fiction, although I occasionally stray into the more remote precincts of popular culture. In the course of my explorations, I often share information about my life as a writer. In fact, I sometimes worry that I’ve overshared. Thus some (many?) of you may know more about Jim Kelly than you ever wanted to! So, with Sheila and Emily’s permission, I’m going to skip the interview. Email me if you want to know how I got into this biz, or who has influenced me or what I’m working on now. I guarantee a prompt reply!


“Selfless,” in particular, lends itself to dramatic reading because of its oddball point of view.


print v audio

Instead I want to discuss my new novelette, “Selfless” in its two current incarnations, print in the magazine and audio on the website. Depending on how you arrived at this blog, you may already know that I recorded the novelette for Asimov’s here at the fabulous, high-tech James Patrick Kelly Studios (my walk in closet). Continue reading “How to Read “Selfless””