How to Make a Weak Saturday Night Live Skit into a Solid Twilight Zone Episode

David Erik Nelson’s terrifying story “In the Sharing Place” is in our September/October issue on sale now. Join him below as he demonstrates how a genre-switch can save a mediocre piece of writing.


Craftspeople, as a class, spend a lot of time annoyed.

Why? Imagine that you love a thing so much that you want to create more of that thing. But creating that thing is hard; it takes skills you don’t have and time you don’t have, pays very little, and opens you up to criticism and abuse from a lot of armchair generals. But you love the thing a lot (and are a great fool), so you invest a lot of energy in honing the skills need to create more of that thing you love. Meanwhile, since you love the thing, you keep seeking the thing out. Noting the immutability of Sturgeon’s Law, it is inevitable that as your skills improve and tastes grow refined—and you keep devouring ever more of the thing—you’re going to hit an ever-increasing number of examples of imperfect executions of that Thing You Love.

Profound, near-constant annoyance is the natural consequence.

You can do two things with that annoyance:

  1. You can kvetch about it (probably on social media, and almost certainly preaching to your choir)—or
  2. You can rewrite it the way you would have written it (i.e., the Right Way, Dammit!™)

PRO-TIP: Every working artist I’ve asked about this sits squarely in Group #2. The Phantom Menace alone has spawned at least seven published novels penned by hella annoyed sf/f fans.

Consider this SNL skit—which comes so very, very close to being The Best Twilight Zone Episode Never Written that it just about makes you want to weep with frustration. Take five minutes to watch it now:

This piece could be great—it starts out so solidly!—but ultimately falls flat and is unsatisfying. Why? What went wrong?

What Went Wrong with the Greatest Twilight Zone Episode Never Written

Continue reading “How to Make a Weak Saturday Night Live Skit into a Solid Twilight Zone Episode”

Q&A with Mary Soon Lee

Accomplished poet and fiction writer Mary Soon-Lee is in the pages of Asimov’s this month with her poem “Packing for the Afterlife” in our slightly spooky September/October issue.


 

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

MSL: The person doing the packing in the poem isn’t me, but there is an overlap between us. The poem’s first stanza is colored by childhood memories: my mother was Irish; my father would sing hymns while slowly picking out the notes on the piano. The remainder of the poem draws on things I’ve loved since I moved to America: the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the first time I saw Saturn through a telescope.

 

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

MSL: I often write sets of poems with a thematic or narrative connection, but this one is a stand-alone piece.

 

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

MSL: I began submitting to Asimov’s back in 1992, and continued for years without success. Following the birth of my second child, I took a long hiatus, first writing very little at all, then, when I did write, working on mainstream poetry. In 2013, I returned to writing fantasy and science fiction, and so also returned to submitting to Asimov’s. “Packing for the Afterlife” is my first piece to appear in Asimov’s, but I’m happy to say I have another poem waiting in the inventory. Continue reading “Q&A with Mary Soon Lee”

Q&A with Carrie Vaughn

As she mentions below, Carrie Vaughn’s novelette “The Huntsman and the Beast” is her fifth appearance in our magazine [on sale now], making her a regular contributor—and our readers are grateful for it! In this blog post, she gives us an insight into her writing process and her recent forays into new genres.

 


 

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

CV: To be completely honest, the idea for “The Huntsman and the Beast” came from watching the live-action Disney Beauty and the Beast film last year. This is a story that’s had dozens of retellings, novel, and film versions. One of my favorite writers, Robin McKinley, has written several novel-length retellings. They’re all great and all have something interesting about them, but I suddenly wanted to see something really different. It’s traditionally such a feminine story, with women at the center of them dealing with women’s perspectives on relationships, I wanted to put a man in the center of the story and see how that changed things. How does he deal with being a prisoner, the monstrousness of his captor, etc.

 

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

CV: I relate to both Jack and the Beast, who are both doing the best they can in an unusual situation. They’re both quite practical and down to earth, and I like that. The fun in writing the story was seeing how I could get them to realize that they’re well suited for each other, despite their trust issues. The story really has more in common with a modern romance than a traditional fairy tale. Continue reading “Q&A with Carrie Vaughn”

Q&A with Rick Wilber

Rick Wilber’s latest (Could it be his last? Read on to find out!) Moe Berg story, “The Secret City,” is in our current issue [on sale now]. Here he discusses the conception of the series and describes the many other writing and teaching projects that keep him busy.


Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece? How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

RW: The back story of “The Secret City” starts with my friend Ben Bova, the novelist and editor. Ben and I had collaborated some years ago on a screen treatment about a fictionalized version of Moe Berg, a famous baseball player who became a spy during World War II. That ultimately came to nothing, but Ben’s deep baseball knowledge and his familiarity with Moe’s fascinating story got me started on writing about him. I grew up in a baseball family—my father played for the Red Sox and Phillies and Cardinals, and was a coach, a scout, and a minor-league manager until he retired in his 60s—but for some reason I hadn’t heard about Moe. So I read Nicholas Dawidoff’s excellent biography, The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg, and that was it, I was hooked. I started reading everything I could find on Moe, including another excellent book, Heisenberg’s War: The Secret History of the German Bomb by Thomas Powers. That book explores German physicist Werner Heisenberg and his leadership of the German A-bomb program during World War II.

There’s quite a bit in the book about Moe Berg, including passages about the famous Zurich incident where Moe was incognito in the audience at a lecture by Heisenberg in neutral Switzerland, with orders to assassinate Heisenberg if it looked like the German program was close to building a super bomb. The incident has been fictionalized a number of times by some great writers, but I wanted to take my own my crack at it and I did so in the story, “Something Real,” which appeared in Asimov’s in the April/May 2012 issue. I set it in an alternate history and got pretty wild with it. It was a great pleasure to write, and I was absurdly pleased when it won the 2012 Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History—Short Form.

Continue reading “Q&A with Rick Wilber”

Eight Inspirations for “The Witch of Osborne Park”

by Stephanie Feldman

  1. In Pennsylvania, barns and homes are often decorated with “hex signs,” or decorative symbols with Pennsylvania Dutch symbolism. Stars are especially popular. You can buy them at Home Depot. “Hex” can also refer to witchcraft. The two types of hex-craft are not related, but what if they were? What if witchcraft charms were available at big box stores?
  2. In mammals, fetal cells migrate into the mother’s body. The maternal immune system eliminates many of these cells, but some integrate into the host tissue, where they may remain for decades, or even permanently. This makes mothers “micro chimeras,” organisms with distinct sets of genetic material. Little is known about the impact on mothers, or the evolutionary value of such a phenomenon.
  3. Horror relies on the uncanny or “unheimlich”—the unhomely—when the familiar becomes unfamiliar. The haunted house may be a metaphor for society or the family, which contains a traumatic and irrepressible secret. Or the haunted house may be a metaphor for the mind itself: the ghosts come from the basement, or the attic, the murky places inside you where things grow undisturbed.
  4. One morning I found a trail of white, kidney-bean shaped prints on my driveway. They were the size of a child’s shoe and had appeared overnight. I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone small and invisible was circling me—footprints on the asphalt, footprints invisible in the ivy.
  5. In The Crucible, Goody Osborne is one of the first to be accused of witchcraft. She served as Mrs. Putnam’s midwife, and delivered three stillborn babies. Mrs. Putnam is certain that Goody Osborne—not nature, not God, not herself—is to blame.
  6. If you arrive in our suburban town by train, you will pass a planned townhouse community under construction. If you continue further, you will also find eighteenth-century farmhouses, a preserved wetland, several chain pharmacies, and an estate that was once a station on the Underground Railroad. The signs for the developments and stores are large and bright. The date plaques and historical markers are smaller, paler. The past is there—it’s right there—and yet somehow your eye slips over it.
  7. On a lark, I decided to smudge my new house. I lit a bundle of stage on the gas stovetop, and my four-year-old put her hands on my wrists as we waved it around the house. “Tell the bad things to go,” I said. It was a game. The sage extinguished on the top floor landing, again and again, though I couldn’t detect a draft.
  8. Our neighborhood has a Halloween children’s parade. The kids assemble in their superhero and princess costumes and walk two blocks together. At the end we have pizza. It’s not very scary at all. I am always disappointed.

My Face 1 STEPHANIE FELDMAN.jpgStephanie Feldman is the author of the novel The Angel of Losses (Ecco), a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, winner of the Crawford Fantasy Award, and finalist for the Mythopoeic Award, and is the co-editor of the multi-genre anthology Who Will Speak for America? (Temple University Press). Her stories and essays have appeared in Asimov’s, Electric Literature, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Maine Review, The Rumpus, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

 

Q&A with Doug Souza

Doug Souza is back in the current Asimov’s issue—on sale now—with his tale of derring-do. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about the story and his writing in general.


 

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

Doug Souza: The first nugget came from wanting to set a story on one of the moons or dwarf planets within our solar system. Since the human body isn’t designed for micro-gravity, that’s always a problem. A friend of mine and I brainstormed some ideas on how to adapt the human body, and nanos came up. I started several versions of the story, and then found that the nanos were the most interesting protagonists since they had the toughest struggle. Then the thought struck me of how much tougher their job would be if their host didn’t care much for his own life.

I hadn’t read a story from the nanos’ POV, so I was stoked to write one. I’m sure I’ll get some emails listing titles of stories with this same idea, but honestly, it was original to me at the time. There are some great stories out there where the AI—whether in a fighter jet or interwebs—ends up making the moral choice in contrast to their human counterpart. As an optimist, this gives me hope that maybe the AI being developed will aid and guide humankind rather than travel back in time to terminate us.


I feel I chiseled my way into writing, rather than breaking in. Not to downplay where I’m at now, I’m super-stoked to have my stories published at the various venues and on podcasts, but it wasn’t an overnight thing.


AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story? Continue reading “Q&A with Doug Souza”

Setting: The Key to Speculative Fiction

The prolific Bruce Boston, whose poem “Vampire Fortuneteller” is on sale in our current issue now, visits the blog with an adapted lecture explaining the power of the science fictional setting.


by Bruce Boston

Why do many readers pass over realistic contemporary fiction and choose to read speculative fiction instead? They can certainly find compelling plots and characters in mainstream fiction. There are more books from which to choose, from classics to potboilers, and no lack of adventure, romance, suspense, and conflict. And most literary critics would contend that in the best mainstream fiction one encounters superior writing and greater emotional and ideational depth than in the best speculative fiction.

Yet speculative fiction can offer one distinctive and significant element that is lacking in mainstream fiction: the creation of an imaginary setting. The reason many readers choose speculative fiction over mainstream is because they want to leave the cares and concerns of everyday reality behind and be transported to a completely different world.

Continue reading “Setting: The Key to Speculative Fiction”