Q&A with Megan Engelhardt

Megan Engelhardt’s holiday-themed poem suits our November/December issue [on sale now] well. Get to know her and her writing in our newest Q&A.


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

ME: I’ve gone to church my entire life, and my entire life I’ve disliked the song “Silent Night.” A few Christmases ago I was attending our Christmas Eve service and, as always, we sang “Silent Night” with the lights turned off. Everyone in the congregation held a candle, and it struck me that it was worth singing the song to see the individual flames merging together to light up the sanctuary. It was a good feeling.

Then I put it into space.

AE: How did this story germinate?

ME: I wrote this poem all in one go, one wild rush from beginning to end. (I find it easier to do that with poems than with short stories.) It went through several rounds of edits before I was happy with the shape of it, but the core poem took maybe half an hour to get down.

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

ME: I’ve been trying to stop self-rejecting my pieces. Often I’ll write something that I feel good about, but not send it to my dream markets because I decide it’s not good enough. Asimov’s is absolutely one of my dream markets, and I am so thrilled I didn’t self-reject this one!


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

ME: My sister, Amanda C. Davis, is my best critic, biggest cheerleader, and my first influence and inspiration. I love C.S. Lewis and his work. If I could write something half as good, funny, meaningful, or influential as Terry Pratchett, I’ll count myself lucky.


AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

ME: Sims 3, long showers, and ranting about the problem to my husband, who listens very patiently until I talk myself into a solution. Continue reading “Q&A with Megan Engelhardt”

All Fiction Is Speculative

by David Ebenbach

“Speculative Fiction” is one of those slippery terms that, for better or for worse, writers are always trying to pin down. The results have included elaborate Venn diagrams, massive databases, and unfortunate sentences such as “Like other cultural fields, speculative fiction is a domain of activity that exists not merely through texts but through their production and reception in multiple contexts.” Some people, meanwhile, have suggested that the “Speculative Fiction” label is mainly just a cover that can “allow the more pretentious to believe that their favorite work is a proper ‘literary’ work with no connection to, and thus obvious superiority over, that geeky science fiction or fantasy.”

Why are we so eager to pin this term down? Because otherwise, according to Lynn Reynolds of Liminal Pages we’ll be left with something “so loose that it can be stretched to include all fiction.”

Continue reading “All Fiction Is Speculative”

On “Joyride”

by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

I did not expect to write “Joyride” [on sale in the November/December issue now]. I was working on a very long novel in my Diving universe. I couldn’t find a way into the novel. By that, I mean, I would start it, and I would write with a lot of enthusiasm, and then, slowly, the enthusiasm would drain. I would get to the point where I couldn’t write any further.

Each time, I would pick different characters and a different starting point in the story. It didn’t matter. As I wrote, the story would falter.

Then Nadim Crowe walked into the novel. In the book, he’s an adult. And in each draft, he would hint at this horrible thing that had happened to him in his youth. This thing had an impact on his entire life.

Continue reading “On “Joyride””

Art & Words

by William Ledbetter

 

Like most writers, the ideas for my stories come from various sources. Many times, they are kernels that grow slowly in my mind. Sometimes I’ll see something out a window or on a walk that triggers an immediate story idea. On many occasions a piece of music sets up a cascade of thoughts that grow into a story. Since my muse is so scattered and inconsistent, it can often be difficult to answer the question “where did you get the idea for this story.” That’s not the case for “What I Am” [on sale in our current issue now and available as a podcast]. I can point to a very specific prompt and the process that gave birth to this particular tale.

Early in 2017 I applied to be in a collaborative art show which is run by my friend and fellow writer Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam and was thrilled to be accepted. Her Art & Words show has been running since 2012 and it pairs up eleven artists and eleven writers from around the world. Writers send in a story or poem, and then if chosen to participate we are given the image of a piece of art as a prompt to write a second story. The artists send in a piece of visual art and if chosen are given a story or poem as inspiration for a second piece of art. The result is twenty-two pieces of art and twenty-two stories or poems.

My prompt was a sculpture called Architeuthis, created by Texas artist Stacy Tompkins. This piece was both inspiring and quite challenging. Every time I looked at it I saw different things. Sometimes it resembled a macramé squid, which is where the sculpture gets its name, and other times it reminded me of a severed arm from a woven beast or possibly an alien exotic worm. Of course it was just for inspiration. My story didn’t have to be actually about this object, but I thought it was cool and wanted to include it in some way. I also knew from the very first glance that it needed to be alive and aquatic.

Being mostly a science fiction writer I didn’t want to bring this beast to life using magic, so that left only electronics. It would have to be a robot. That said, coming up with an even slightly plausible reason for a robot to be built in that form—at least by humans—left me scratching my head, until I embraced the idea of a future where everything was endowed with some level of intelligent automation. Then the idea kind of took off. The boy’s sweater wanted to make him feel better—as any intelligent sweater would—so it offered to help him find the ring.

I also enjoyed creating a story arc where the protagonist didn’t change. The boy in the story was a vague stand-in for so many of us who are feeling lost, bitter, and sad in today’s chaotic world. The robot was a steadfast companion, who despite being hacked, rearranged and forced into a role it didn’t want, stayed true to its original purpose and was there for the boy when needed. Couldn’t we all use a friend like that?


datauri-file

William Ledbetter is a Nebula Award winning author with more than sixty speculative fiction stories and non-fiction articles published in markets such as Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Escape Pod, Baen.com, Daily SF, the SFWA blog, and Ad Astra. His new novel “Level Five” is available from Audible Originals.

He’s been a space and technology geek since childhood and spent most of his non-writing career in the aerospace and defense industry. He administers the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award contest for Baen Books and the National Space Society, is a member of SFWA, the National Space Society of North Texas, a Launch Pad Astronomy workshop graduate, and is the Science Track coordinator for the Fencon convention. He lives near Dallas with his wife, a needy dog and two spoiled cats.

Worlds to Live In: Atmosphere

Ray Nayler, whose story “Incident at San Juan Bautista” is on sale in our current issue now, visits the blog with insight—invaluable to emerging science fiction writers—on how to achieve that je ne sais quoi that is the atmosphere of a good science fiction story.


When I was a kid, I didn’t look for stories to read: I looked for worlds to live in.

We were feral kids, girls and boys with parents too caught up in their own slow-motion disaster marriages to notice or care what we were doing. So my friends and I spent long summer days and after-school afternoons walking around our sprawling town of Fremont, California, scraping together change to buy comic books and reading them in our “clubhouse”—an abandoned van down by the railroad tracks that sliced through the town. We watched two-dollar triple features of second run science fiction, horror, and action films at the crumbling old movie theater downtown, an art-deco cave that was almost empty most days: during quiet scenes, you could sometimes hear rats battling over ancient Milk Duds up on the balcony.

What we wanted most from the books and comics we read, and from the films we watched, were worlds to escape into. When I began writing, I didn’t start with writing stories: I started with trying to make up worlds for my friends. I started with describing the places we fantasized about living in—haunted forests, space stations, moon bases, drowned cities beneath the waves.

Continue reading “Worlds to Live In: Atmosphere”

Everybody Wants to Live Forever . . .

by Julie Novakova

What would you do if you could live forever? I recently got into a debate on the personal consequences of immortality with a friend of mine. For me, seeking change and novelty seemed natural; after all, if you stack in years after years, don’t you become bored with things that remain the same? For him, almost the opposite rang true—he imagined perfecting one art and yourself with it. Meditating, getting to know yourself deeply, and becoming better still through it. I found it interesting. If taking these approaches to the extremes, you would find running from yourself on one end, and contemplating yourself on the other.


What would most people choose—deliberately or not—if given the chance to become immortal?


Immortality is by far not a new topic in speculative fiction. Already in its roots such as myths or fairy tales, we see immortal beings of all kinds. We’ve got countless depictions of vampires, elves, ghosts, gods, and demigods each dealing with eternal life in their own way. Some struggle because of loss, boredom, or on the other hand unwelcome change; some simply “enjoy the ride”; some are as constant as Earth revolving around the Sun; some experience personality shifts to the extent where they practically become a new being. In popular culture, I especially liked the different takes on immortality in Doctor Who—the Doctor him/herself, Jack Harkness, Lady Me . . . Each represents a different way to deal with eternity, and each also possesses a different kind of “immortality”—the ability to regenerate into another person retaining the previous one’s memories, indestructibility, and eternal youth and health, but with the potential to succumb to deadly injury.

Continue reading “Everybody Wants to Live Forever . . .”

An Accidental Poet

by William Shunn

 

     I never set out to be a poet. Everything that led to poems like “The Golem” [on sale in our September/October issue now] appearing in print happened by accident.

     All right, sure, I did have ambitions to publish my poems when I was in high school in the early ’80s. I even submitted a few to Asimov’s. But looking back over those early efforts, it would appear that my technique consisted mostly of flipping through a thesaurus in search of ten-dollar words I didn’t quite understand and cramming them into sentences where they didn’t quite fit. Those poems still languish, deservedly, in the darkest recesses of my filing cabinet.

     I did always intend to publish fiction. From college on, that was my main focus, and poetry fell by the wayside. I started selling stories here and there, including one to Washed by a Wave of Wind, an anthology of science fiction from the Intermountain West, edited by M. Shayne Bell. When the anthology was published in December 1993, Shayne and I and several other contributors set out in a big van on a book tour to obscure corners of Utah.

Continue reading “An Accidental Poet”

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”