Q&A with Leah Cypess

Author Leah Cypess mined her experiences with parenting and social media to give us her latest work of fiction in our current issue on sale now. Here, she explains the story’s beginnings and how it fits in with her writing on a certain theme.

 


 

Asimov’s Editor: “Attachment Unavailable” is such a fun story to read—was it equally fun to write?

LC: Oh, yes. This was one of the most fun stories I’ve ever written—I kept giggling as I was working on it.

 

AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly (perhaps after time on parenting groups)?

LC: Good guess! I think the answer is all of the above. In the beginning, this wasn’t a story. I read a Facebook exchange among some friends of mine, commenting on a parenting article, and it irritated me enough to make me write a little parody. I posted it; it went over well with my friends, and then I moved on and forgot about it.

Years later, I created a PDF of my Facebook history, for the purpose of creating a scrapbook of my kids’ funny comments. While going through the PDF, I came across that parody and thought, “I should do something more with this . . .” and then wrote the rough draft of the story in less than an hour.

I spent a lot of time fine-tuning it, of course, but the most time-consuming part of writing this story was figuring out how to format it; the process required me to keep checking Facebook, which was definitely not the most efficient way to get a story ready for submission.

 

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why? Continue reading “Q&A with Leah Cypess”

Q&A with Ian R. MacLeod

Ian R. MacLeod, whose new novelette you can find in our current issue [on sale now], gives us some insight into his influences and inspirations—for “Ephemera” and his writing career in general.


 

Asimov’s Editor: As our readers will see, Jane Austen’s work plays a role in this story. Can you talk about how that came about?

Ian R. MacLeod: I have to admit that I’m not a great fan of Jane Austen. Yes, I can admire what she does in a technical sense, at the very least, in that she set a template for a certain kind of fiction (not to mention movie) whose popularity continues to this day. I can even appreciate that it’s no small feat to be frothily light and mildly funny. If she were described of as an interesting minor author, I’d probably be in agreement. But does she really say anything that was particularly interesting or new about humanity, even at the time her work was written, and within the narrow social confines within which she chose to set her works? I would argue not. Then there’s all the heritage nonsense and reverence which now gathers around her novels . . .

So, and having said that, I guess I’m left with the question of why I chose an early scene from Pride and Prejudice as the way to introduce KAT, the robot protagonist of my story, who’s basically a very lonely librarian. I think it was because I could see that, living with the rather grim realities she has to deal with all alone on her asteroid, I could fully understand why she might want to seek out some light relief. For me when it comes to humorists, it would probably be P.G. Wodehouse, but KAT’s not me. Then, of course, I wanted to choose a well-known classic which most readers will be generally aware of, even if they hadn’t read it, which considerably narrows the field. I suppose I could have had Kat imagining herself fighting against Napoleon in War and Peace, but somehow Pride and Prejudice seemed like a suitably daft yet reasonable book for an intelligent robot to have a particular fondness for, especially as it deals with the romantic love she clearly longs to experience.

Continue reading “Q&A with Ian R. MacLeod”

The Moral of the Big Bang

by Michael Meyerhofer


Give Michael’s new poem—“The Big Bang Was Not”—a read, in our current issue on sale now.


 

Because I occasionally have nothing better to do than sit around contemplating the Big Bang, a while back, I found myself trying to grasp how the Universe could begin from a fixed point, then expand into infinity (since a growing number of scientists are now suggesting that the Universe is, in fact, infinite). It simply didn’t make sense, because like most people, I’d grown up hearing that everything from quasars to the Kardashians began with a kind of cosmic seed, unimaginably small, unspeakably dense.

Continue reading “The Moral of the Big Bang”

Q&A with Jack Skillingstead

Jack Skillingstead returns to Asimov’s with his imaginative new adventure “Straconia,” in the current issue [on sale now]. He let us in on his writing process, his first Asimov’s sale over a decade ago, and why he finds himself coming back to alienated characters.


 

Asimov’s Editor: How did the title for this piece come to you?

JS: “Stracony” is a Polish word meaning: “lost.” The story is about lost things and people, and parts of the story have a vaguely eastern European flavor—at least, they do in my mind if not actually on the page. “Straconia,” of course, is not a real word, and I pronounce it the way an American would, not a Polish person. Also, if it were an actual Polish word, the “c” would be a “k” as in: Strakonia. This will drive my Polish friend, Ania, crazy.

 

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

JS: Like most of my stories, it started with a core idea or situation. In this case, the situation was the estranged spouse of my protagonist disappears in the middle of the night to lead an alternate life in Straconia, where she works in a diner. The husband hides behind the seats of the car to find out where she’s been going, and winds up swapping places with her. He soon gets caught up in Straconia’s weird passive-aggressive justice system. From there, he has to figure out how to get back home, which involves defining what home is and why he has always felt shut off from it. That was the situation. The larger idea involved Straconia being a place where not only people but all the lost things wind up. You know, socks, pens, keys, etc. Estrangement is a theme I’ve written a lot about, so it was natural that I would land on that. The trick was not to be repetitive, to find something new to say. Once I started writing I discovered the story in the sentences—as it happened, too many sentences. Straconia came out to around fifteen thousand words. My editor asked me to cut five thousand of them! Naturally this was impossible, but I decided to give it a shot, just as an exercise in brevity. It became a very liberating experience. Every cut made the story better.

Continue reading “Q&A with Jack Skillingstead”

The Stuff of Fantasy

SFWA Grandmaster Jane Yolen, whose poem “Counting the Cost” is in our current issue on sale now, discusses where poetry and genre intersect, and what that intersection means to her.


 

Science fiction poetry is the stepchild of the genre, even though we poets have our own organization (SFPA). However, most SF poetry is definitely looked down upon. Spaceships in sonnets?  Robot poems? Men on Mars villanelles? Rhymed couplets about Sirius? Only (hiss boo) fans write that. NOT literature, the canons complain, and the gatekeepers sniff.

But fantasy poetry has been around, well, forever. Think the Odyssey, think Gilgamesh, think Shakespeare, think (more recently) Yeats’s “Song of Wandering Angus” and the mermaid reference in Eliot, and and and and and.

Much of poetry is the stuff of fantasy. Burns “My love is a red red rose” metaphors. Ballads with folkloric underpinnings like Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot.” Heroic, bombastic, or dark and ghostly, yeah—we have seen those before so they are ok.

What about wicked, whimsical, outrageous, and satirical poems: “Jabberwocky,” Eliot’s cat poems. Asimov’s and Lears’ limericks. The critics may look down their long noses on such, but they allow light verse a seat at poetry’s table, though well below the salt.

And some magazines (thank you, Asimov’s) invite us all—dark rhymers, light fantastic, and Mars Rover poets in through the front door. We even get to sit by Sheila’s right hand at the table, though if it is food for fans, it is often pretty thin gruel. Well, peanut butter sandwiches and cheese toasties, and pass the chocolates if you please. My kind of meal. My kind of poems.

 


Jane YolenJane Yolen, often called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America,” is the author of over 365 books, including OWL MOON, THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC, SISTER EMILY’S LIGHTSHIP, and HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT. The books range from rhymed picture books and baby board books through middle grade fiction, poetry collections, nonfiction, to novels and story collections for young adults and adults. Her books, stories, and poems have won an assortment of awards—two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Award, a Caldecott Medal, the Golden Kite Award, three Mythopoeic awards, two Christopher Medals, a nomination for the National Book Award, the Rysling Award, and the Jewish Book Award, among many others. She was the first woman to give the St Andrews University’s Andrew Lang lecture since the lecture series was started in 1927. She was also the first writer to win the Arts and Humanities award given by the New England Public Radio. A past president of SFWA, she is a World Fantasy Grand Master, a Science Fiction Poetry Association Grand Master, and a Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master. Six colleges and universities have given her honorary doctorates. Also worthy of note, her Skylark Award—given by NESFA, the New England Science Fiction Association, set her good coat on fire. If you need to know more about her, visit her website at: http://www.janeyolen.com.

The Problem with Human Hands: The Making of “Note to Our Guests”

by Amy Miller

I love caves. Whenever I travel, I hit any public cave that’s nearby. If there’s a public tour, even the kitschy kind with handrails and colored lighting and a bored teenage guide, I pay the $30 and do it just to gaze at the stalactites and stalagmites and blind newts and colonies of bats clinging to the walls like so many brown leaves. I do the more adventurous tours too, rappelling down hundred-foot drops and crawling on my elbows through rock tubes barely wider than my shoulders. I’m a bit obsessed with caves. They stir up something primordial with their alien, otherworldly landscapes right under our feet.

One thing you often hear when you tour a cave is that its condition—how little it’s been damaged, how close it is to pristine—is directly related to how recently it was opened to the public. Caves that have been overrun by tourists for a century or more bear the scars of their longtime fame—jagged stumps where stalactites were snapped off and taken home as souvenirs, hundred-year-old names of visitors scrawled on walls with charcoal or candle wax, and stalagmites that should sparkle with healthy, growing crystals but are now dull, dark lumps, their life cycle stopped by the oil on people’s hands when they touched the exquisite formations and unwittingly “killed” them.

Caves that were opened more recently, since about the 1960s, are markedly different—underground ponds shine with ethereal colors, and even the most delicate formations, like soda straws and helicities, gleam at eye level, preserved by their distance from the strategically placed walkways and by careful tour guides, part of whose job is to give you an educational lecture on how not to ruin a cave.


It’s been a hallmark of human civilization that we don’t always know which of our everyday practices—something as small as reaching out a hand when we’re walking through a cave—might have disastrous consequences centuries down the road.


 

Surely the people who invented plastic in the 1800s had no idea that giant “garbage islands” of the stuff would eventually plague our oceans. In Herman Melville’s day, most people believed that whales were an inexhaustible resource—there were so many of them—unaware that their wooden boats and hand-held harpoons would evolve into a massive mechanized sea-hunting industry in the 20th century that would drive many whale species to the brink of extinction.

So I couldn’t help feeling a little trepidation after I saw NASA’s spectacular, closest-ever photos of Saturn from the Cassini spacecraft last year. The images were amazing, jaw-dropping—the rings appearing knife-thin, the loops and whorls of the big planet’s exquisitely complex atmosphere, the varied and lonely-looking moons, some battered as beach rocks. I was so excited; I could not wait for us to get our human selves out there. We could set up an orbiting space station, I thought, with a big hotel and . . .

. . . well, then I thought about those snapped-off stalactites, and the human impulse to write our names and gouge tire tracks in mud, and the dopes who think it’s fun to knock over ancient rock formations in national parks. I wondered: What will we do out there? Will we ever really learn the lessons of the passenger pigeon, the northern white rhino, the Great Barrier Reef? What will happen when we get our hands on an entire new world?

See the 2017 Cassini photos here:

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/images/index.htmlhttps://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/14/science/cassini-saturn-images.html

 *Image of Saturn’s rings provided by NASA.


Miller-Amy_0193

Amy Miller’s writing has appeared in numerous journals, including Asimov’s Science Fiction, Fine Gardening, Gulf Coast, Rattle, and ZYZZYVA, anthologies such as Nasty Women Poets and Ghost Fishing, and many editions of the Poet’s Market. Her poetry collection The Trouble with New England Girls won the Louis Award from Concrete Wolf Press. She works as an editor and print-project manager for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is the poetry editor of the NPR listening guide Jefferson Journal, and blogs at writers-island.blogspot.com. #AmyMillerPoet

 

 

Q&A with Dale Bailey

Dale Bailey’s latest short story, “Rules of Biology,” is featured in our July/August issue [on sale now]. In addition to chatting with us here on the blog, he also recorded his new story in podcast form, available here now!


 

Asimov’s Editor: Happily, you agreed to participate in our podcast series with this story. Our gentle readers can give it a listen here. How did you find the recording process? 

DB: It was interesting. I try to write in the rhythms of spoken language. I once received a rejection letter that said the piece read too much like it had been written to be read aloud—which I took as a compliment, even though it wasn’t meant that way. So in that sense, reading the piece was fine. But I never mastered the actor’s gift of giving each character a different voice.

 

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

DB: Certainly not Esterman, who is a pretty selfish and unpleasant man. But I do like Dee. She’s doesn’t deserve what happens to her (who does?). But she’s stronger than she seems at first, and she claims some happiness for herself, which I like about her.

 


AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

DB: Asimov’s and I go way back. I used to scour newsstands for it in the late ’70s and early ’80s and have subscribed for years. Decades I guess. Which is kind of sobering now that I think about it. How did I get this old?


 

AE: What inspired you to start writing?

Continue reading “Q&A with Dale Bailey”