Q&A with Todd Dillard

Asimov’s newcomer Todd Dillard chats about his writing process and inspirations—whether for his current manuscript, which he describes as the most difficult project he’s ever worked on, or his debut science fiction poem, which you can find in our current issue.


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

TD: I have always loved the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. It’s such a delightful blend of spoof and adventure, fraught with rich scenes and characters and things so bizarre you have to laugh when you read them. I reread the first book over a year ago, during a period when I was dabbling with persona poems, and I kept returning to how genius and aberrant a creature like the Babel Fish is. How did they evolve? If they are the source of so much mayhem, why are they so prolific across the galaxy? More importantly: what is their agency? What do they want? This question serves as the foundation of the poem.

 

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?

TD: “Palate of the Babel Fish” is the most useful title I could come up with; it describes the subject, the topic, and scans pleasantly. I like too how close to “ballad” the word “palate” is; if you were to only listen with half an ear, the title almost sounds like “Ballad of the Babel Fish.”

 

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

TD: I used to run a newsstand, and Asimov’s was one of the few science fiction titles I stocked. It was the first magazine to come to mind when I completed this, my first science fiction poem written as an adult.

Continue reading “Q&A with Todd Dillard”

Q&A with Bill Johnson

Bill Johnson is back with a new Summit novella, “Bury Me in the Rainbow,” in the current issue on sale now. In a chat with us, he reveals how the story came together and teases some of his upcoming projects.


Asimov’s Editors: Bill, some our long-time readers may recognize some of the characters in this story—what is their history in your writing and in Asimov’s?

Bill Johnson: In 1997, I wrote a novelette “We Will Drink A Fish Together.” It was published in Asimov’s and won the Hugo in 1998.

I was born and raised in very rural parts of South Dakota and Iowa (and now live in Chicago), and I’ve always been struck by the difference in attitudes between very rural areas and cities. They are—in many ways—completely alien to each other.

I had just gone back to Dakota for a funeral and when I got back to Chicago I started to write about this difference. I have “real” aliens in the story but the true aliens are the different people, their cultures, and how they interact. It’s not a matter of political differences—many small town people are quite liberal and many city dwellers are very conservative—but in how they view the world, each other, and their different approaches to the same problem.

Fish is, to me, an introduction to the town of Summit and the real problem the town faces: the imminent extermination of their way of life by the flatlanders, the people from big cities who are attracted to their area by the cheap land, unspoiled scenery, and relaxed lifestyle. The same problem faced by residents in many different areas (the Hamptons, much of Michigan, Idaho, etc.). In the case of the people of Summit, however, they do have an option.

Do they leave Earth?

Which is a very complicated decision.

Continue reading “Q&A with Bill Johnson”

Q&A with Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal is back in our current issue with her new story “Artisanal Trucking, LLC,” which she says started as a “gee whiz” idea and expanded from there. She also talks past jobs and future books.

 

For more about her process, see this companion post, but be warned: spoilers reside within.

 

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

Mary Robinette Kowal: I was at a conference in a round table discussion talking about automation and privilege. At some point, we were talking about how knitting, which used to be a necessary thing, became automated with knitting machines and now it is a luxury art. It’s expensive to buy wool. It takes time and leisure to make a garment. I said, “I imagine the hipsters of the future will totally do artisanal trucking.” I had more of a point but stopped talking as Story stampeded through my brain.

 

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

MRK: The conference gave me the “gee whiz” idea. But I wound up developing it as part of a Short Story Intensive that I was teaching. In the class, I always take a gee whiz idea and demonstrate how you can explore it to find a story. I worked through that and liked what I was coming up with. Interestingly, the character’s name, “Dude,” was originally a placeholder in my notes. But I thought it worked for him so I kept it.

 

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

MRK: I always love the SF that Sheila chooses for Asimov’s because it explores an SFnal concept but always centers on character. The story of a dude, his dog, and an AI truck just seemed like a natural fit.

 

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?

MRK: They impact me quite a lot, sometimes by shaping the things I’m thinking about while I’m writing and sometimes by distracting me from writing. I think this happens with most fiction, but science fiction makes it very easy to spot the effects of current events from the Atomic era science fiction to Cyberpunk. I enjoy the fact that our field allows us to extrapolate and imagine futures.

Continue reading “Q&A with Mary Robinette Kowal”

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”