Ray Nayler’s fourth story for Asimov’s, “A Threnody for Hazan,” is available now in the current issue. He graciously agreed to answer a few questions about living as a globe-trotter and his writing process. Get a peak inside his head with our newest interview!
Asimov’s Editor: Ray, if I’m remembering correctly, you do a lot of traveling—how has this affected your writing?
Ray Nayler: Yes, that’s an understatement! I’m a Foreign Service Officer, and so my job is to live and work overseas. And before joining the Foreign Service, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Turkmenistan, and then worked overseas for several years. In all, since September of 2003, I’ve only lived in the United States for a total of about 2.5 years, mostly when I was back in the U.S. for language or other training for the Foreign Service in Washington, D.C.
This, of course, has a heavy influence on my writing. First of all, I read a lot of things in Russian, especially Russian science fiction, and Polish science fiction in Russian translation, such as Stanislaw Lem, but also classics and other things. That has a big influence on me. And of course I have a different set of locations and settings, since the cities I know best include Moscow, Istanbul, Ashgabat, Dushanbe, Almaty, Baku, and other places. So when I’m drawing on my experience, those are the places I’ve lived in most recently, and therefore the places that are freshest in my mind.
AE: How many languages (and which) have you mastered, and what countries have you lived in?
RN: My main foreign language is Russian, which is the lingua Franca of a number of the countries where I’ve lived and worked. I also speak some Azerbaijani Turkish—though I won’t claim to have mastered it—and spoke some Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Tajiki—which is related to Persian—and Vietnamese. Those languages are just fragments now—it’s hard to keep up on a language when you no longer live where it is spoken. That list of languages is pretty good indicator of the countries where I worked: Turkmenistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan, and Azerbaijan.
. . . my own thoughts about the conundrums of time travel, consciousness, and my longing to return to Istanbul, the city I love most in the world. Disparate roots, but these things all started to slowly coalesce into what would become “A Threnody for Hazan.”
AE: What was the most challenging place to live?
RN: I think the most challenging place to live was Fremont, California – where I grew up. I always felt out of place there, but I never had a good excuse for feeling that way. At least now I feel out of place because I really am a foreigner.
AE: What about this background informs you as a writer?
RN: I spend the majority of my time as an “outsider” looking in on societies I don’t entirely understand, and also drifting further from my own society, in some ways. Living as a foreigner for so long, that also influences my outlook. I spend much of my time reading, speaking, and interacting in languages other than English, in societies very different from my own, and I think that sense of “alienation” is something I use in my writing. Being abstracted from my own culture also, I think, allows me to see it more clearly. I can bring an outside perspective to my own upbringing and culture that I could not have before I lived away from it for so long.
AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly? Continue reading “Q&A with Ray Nayler”