Deeper into Mary Robinette Kowal’s Process (SPOILERS!) for “Artisanal Trucking, LLC”

Mary Robinette Kowal was gracious enough to share her writing and teaching process with us, and in turn you, dear readers! Please take note that if you haven’t read “Artisanal Trucking, LLC” yet, these documents contain SPOILERS.

First, there is an initial brainstorming sheet that she has created to be filled in: Mary’s Plot Process Steps.

Next, turns this sheet into an outline: Mary’s Outline Demo.

Lastly, she begins writing directly atop the outline, adjusting as she goes: Mary’s story sample – Artisinal Trucking.


We hope this helps you better understand her process, and perhaps it may help you sort out your own ideas before you (hopefully!) send them off to us, here at Asimov’s!

Q&A with Sean Monaghan

Sean Monaghan discusses his most recent—and fifth—story in the current issue of Asimov’s while also touching on the fantastic and imaginative worlds he creates for our readers. Read on to learn about his inspiration and influences.


Asimov’s Editors: How did “The Billows of Sarto” germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

Sean Monaghan: I love extreme environments. The Antarctic, the Atacama Desert, lush rainforests, the Grand Canyon. I studied geography and geology and have always been fond of volcanoes, especially collapsed calderas. A few years back I visited Crater Lake National Park in Oregon and loved seeing the tiny volcanic peak sticking up inside the caldera (and also had a flash of memory—when I’d been a little kid, I’d seen a photo and decided that I wanted to go there sometime . . . in the intervening decades I’d forgotten about that. That was cool).

When I came to write “The Billows of Sarto,” I started with the environment, the caldera with its microclimate. Things progressed from there.

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

SM: I suspect all of my stories are part of a larger universe, I just haven’t quite figured out how to join them all together. I’m sure Sarto is another world, just an easy starship jump from the planet Kaylee in “The Molenstraat Music Festival” or Ariosto in “Crimson Birds of Small Miracles” (both of which appeared in Asimov’s). I would certainly like to explore more of Sarto; the caldera is just a part of the landscape.


With “The Billows of Sarto” the environment is almost one of the characters, but it’s very much a character story, with an exotic setting, and so Asimov’s felt like a natural home.


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

SM: I guess I do relate to Jack. That quest for answers and for understanding, and looking in unusual (and often wrong) places for those. The moments of uncertainty in dealing with new people, and moments of simply becoming baffled by family. Continue reading “Q&A with Sean Monaghan”

Q&A with Ray Nayler

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”

Q&A with Rachel Swirsky & Trace Yulie

In Trace Yulie and Rachel Swirsky’s story—in the current issue on sale now—you’ll find a determined woman who is “Seven Months Out, Two To Go.” Collaborative stories are exciting, because each team approaches their creation differently. Luckily, Trace & Rachel agreed to chat about their process!

Asimov’s Editors: Trace and Rachel—it is always a treat to publish a collaborative story. Every collaborative work seems to have its own process and style: How did you two approach coauthoring this piece?

Rachel Swirsky: In this case, I was having a lot of writer’s block where I just couldn’t generate the foundations of a story. My editorial/rewriting skills were still working, though. I asked Trace and some other friends of mine if they had short stories that they had a foundation for, but couldn’t wrestle into a form they felt satisfied with. Trace handed me this one, and I took a few months revising it, and then we passed it back and forth for a while after that to polish it up.

Trace Yulie: Collaborating is kind of a scary delight. Rachel saw the gaps in this idea of a grieving rancher who has a strange encounter, which wasn’t much more than a few solid scenes with imagery and a feeling when I passed it on. I’d felt that something was missing that made my draft unsatisfying. Our back and forth served to stitch things together thematically, in ways I couldn’t see when she began, and character interiority deepened. Rachel has a gift for that. More concretely, we worked on a shared document and talked through the draft periodically over the phone. The process taught me a lot about stepping back from the vision in my head to see what a story can become.

AE: Have either of you worked with another author (perhaps each other) before? In what ways was this experience different?

RS: I’ve published two stories with my former student, An Owomoyela, using this process where they wrote the foundation, I did heavy rewrites, and then we polished together. “Between Dragons and their Wrath” is up at Clarkesworld Magazine, and “Whose Drowned Face Sleeps” is online at Nightmare Magazine. I’ve also published stories with Katherine Sparrow and Ann Leckie.

TY: I’ve started a couple of collaborations with other writers, but this is the first to result in a finished product. It helped that we both seemed to know what we were going for.

AE: What is the story behind this piece?

RS: Trace and I will have really different answers to this because of the way we collaborated. Trace was with this story from the beginning when it was just germinating, but I only came in after there was a complete draft. My process began when I read Trace’s draft of the story and considered how I could help shape it. The story was already beautiful, with all its themes about grief and alienation. I got to work on structure and plot, trying to create a slightly more robust framework for Trace’s concepts and images. Continue reading “Q&A with Rachel Swirsky & Trace Yulie”

Rudy Rucker & Paul Di Filippo’s “Lost City of Leng”

Read on for the detailed incubation of the lively adventure “The Lost City of Leng” by Rudy Rucker & Paul Di Filippo in our issue on sale now. Rudy takes us through his and Paul’s creative process and inspiration, providing the rollicking story’s historical context. Warning: spoilers may reside below! 



Early in 2017, I was starting work on my next novel, Return to the Hollow Earth, intended as a sequel to my 1992 novel, The Hollow Earth. Unsure where to take my story, I considered introducing a Cthulhu mythos theme. But then I decided to fission off the Lovecraft element into a separate story. And it worked! Paul Di Filippo and I wrote “The Lost City of Leng,” and it’s on the cover of Asimov’s. Here are some extracts from my writing journals.

February 15, 2017. I want to write a twenty thousand word novella that’s a sequel to Lovecraft’s classic novella “At the Mountains of Madness.” For me, this work is the single greatest SF story ever written. I’ve admired it for years and years, and every time I reread it, it seems better. In this post, I’ll call Lovecraft’s novella “ATMOM” for short. I want to do the sequel project quite seriously, making a real push to create something great. Not a jape. But no need to be too serious about it, I suppose. Given that I’m more or less incapable of writing something that isn’t, at some level, at least to me, funny.

….Would be more fun to do a full-on Cthulhu Mythos tale. Not that Ole Tentacle-Face actually needs to appear himself.

The tale is related to the Starkweather-Moore expedition that Lovecraft’s character William Dyer is inveighing against. I want to collaborate on it with Paul Di Filippo. Serious pastiche is one of Paul’s fortes, and I enjoy it myself. . . .  Cf. my novel The Hollow Earth, which is a pastiche of Eddie Poe.

Maybe we’ll call it “The Plateau of Leng” which was Lovecraft’s indirectly intimated name for both the Elder Ones’ city and for the landscape it was in.

Re: this name, note that in 2009 my friend Marc Laidlaw wrote a memorably creepy Lovecraft-style story called “Leng,” which appears in his recent story collection 400 Boys and 50 More. Marc’s ending for his tale is one of the most disgusting climaxes ever, so be careful not to read any online discussion of the tale before you savor the foul original itself.

March 30, 2017. I finished a new painting, In the Lost City of Leng. It goes with the ATMOM sequel project.

[In the Lost City of Leng, acrylic on canvas, March, 2017, 40” x 30.” Click for a larger version of the painting.]

Recall that Lovecraft’s tale is about some adventurers who find their way into a tens-of-thousands of years old city beneath the ice and snow of an obscure plateau in Antarctica. And some of the down-sloping walls of the hallways are adorned with friezes that describe the history, science, art, and culture of the “Elder Ones” or “cukes” who lived there. The cukes were all but exterminated by some train-car-sized slugs known as shoggoth. So in my painting, we see a couple of explorers, totally unaware of the waiting shoggoth below. . . .

[Awesome Fake Classics Illustrated Comic Cover for ATMOM]

As an aside, I found a nice online edition of “At the Mountains of Madness.” The page includes a reproduction of a truly bitchin’ cover, purportedly for a Classics Illustrated edition of the book. The image features a raging echinoderm Elder One or what I call a “cuke-man” waving a hapless dog and a man. Dig the frieze in the background? Like the one I painted, and like the ones that Lovecraft describes.

Love the guy cringing in his Antarctic furs. When I posted this image on Facebook, one of my more comics-savvy readers, Seth Kallen Deitch, informed me the cover is a fake. Wonder who the artist is. I just love those shades of green.

Continue reading “Rudy Rucker & Paul Di Filippo’s “Lost City of Leng””