An hour-long conversation with Lavie Tidhar, World Fantasy Award, Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, Campbell Award, and Neukom Prize-winning author, speaker, and book columnist for the Washington Post, about his creative process, with a focus on his new novel The Escapement (Tachyon Publications).
Lavie Tidhar is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of Osama (2011), Seiun-nominated The Violent Century (2013), the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize-winning A Man Lies Dreaming (2014), and the Campbell Award and Neukom Prize-winning Central Station (2016), and Locus and Campbell award-nominatedUnholy Land (2018), in addition to many other works and several other awards. His latest novel is The Escapement (Tachyon Publications). Other recent novels includeBy Force Alone (2020) and debut children’s novel Candy (2018 UK; as The Candy Mafia 2020 US). He is also the author of the comics mini-series Adler..
Lavie works across genres, combining detective and thriller modes with poetry, science fiction, and historical and autobiographical material. His work has been compared to that of Philip K. Dick by the Guardian and the Financial Times, and to Kurt Vonnegut’s by Locus.
Lavie’s media appearances have included Channel 4 News, BBC Radio London and others. His speaking engagements have included a wide range of events, including for the Ministry of Defence, Cambridge University, English PEN, the Singapore Writers Festival and various Guest of Honour appearances in Japan, Poland, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, China and elsewhere. Occasional commissions include work for Conde Nast, Braingle/Puzzle Tales, I Speak Machine/Penguin Random House, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum Berlin and New Scientist.
A Philadelphia native, these days David does most of his writing in Washington, DC, where he lives with his family—because he uses a laptop now, he doesn’t keep them awake with his typing—and where he works at Georgetown University, teaching creative writing and literature at the Center for Jewish Civilization and promoting student-centered teaching at the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship.
The (Lightly Edited) Transcript
So, David, welcome to The Worldshapers.
Thank you so much for having me. And I should say, by the way, that the typewriter was at least enormous when I was small. It wasn’t as big as I remember,
We had this little Smith-Corona portable, which took me right through university. And I loved it because it was mechanical. There was a key that would occasionally quit working, but I knew how to fix it. And as long as I could get ribbons, I actually quite liked it. It had a nice it was easy to type on, and yeah. So, I kind of miss it some, but I don’t really miss the sound of the tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, and then the carriage. I don’t miss carriage returns flipping.
Yeah, that part was not the best, yeah.
And when I started as a newspaper reporter, started my career, we were on big manual typewriters. So, I did my share of that for sure.
That typewriter was practically a weapon. I mean, if you picked it up and dropped it on somebody, that would be the last time you talked to them.
That’s right. I don’t think we have . . . I know for a fact, in fact, I think that we have never met. I don’t know, we might have been at a convention at the same time, but we’ve never met in person. But you came to me through Tachyon, who’s publishing your upcoming book, How to Mars, that we’re going to talk about. And we were talking before we started about what a great publishing company they are. And I’ve talked to several authors who have worked with them and have heard good things about them. So, I’m glad to have you on, again, as another representative from the Tachyon stable of authors.
I’m delighted to be here. And especially as that kind of representative, I’ve got to say, and it’s not just because they’re publishing my novel, Tachyon is spectacular. They’re consummate professionals, but they’re also just a ton of fun. And they seem to have hit it just right. They’re publishing just the number of books that allow them to get a lot of stuff out there but to be able to devote a lot of attention to each book. So, it’s just been a real pleasure. And the stuff that Tachyon publishes, you could easily just pause, you know, if you’re listening to this interview, you can pause it and go grab a bunch of books from Tachyon, almost at random, and you’d be really happy.
They have really great covers. I really like Tachyon covers.
Yes. Elizabeth Story does the covers, or at least most of them. And she did mine. And that was a great day when I saw that design.
Well, we’ll talk about How to Mars a little later on, but first, I will take you back into the mists of time, and we will find out . . . well, I know from your bio that you started writing young. So how did that all begin? How did you get interested? I presume you started as a reader and then became interested in writing, but. . . and you grew up in Philadelphia . . . so tell me all about that and how you got into this writing habit.
It was the books, of course. You know, I mean, I was reading from a pretty young age, and the stuff that little kids get to read is full of wonder and fascination. The first book that I ever read out loud was a book called Crictor, which is about this sentient boa constrictor that can form all the letters of the alphabet and all the numbers but also can thwart crime in Paris. Really kind of a remarkable snake. And I’ll never forget that. I still have that book. And I just absorbed a ton from everything that I was reading and also things that I was watching. So, I had this enormous typewriter, of course, and I banged out what I considered my first novel when I was eight years old, and it was . . . it would get me into serious copyright issues if people were to look at it today because the main characters were the Smurfs. They were close at hand, and I just grabbed them. And it’s this surprisingly violent spy novel about the Smurfs, actually. And I still have a copy of that on my shelf. And I was typing with so much enthusiasm some of the letters pretty much went through the paper altogether and left little letter-sized, letter-shaped holes in the paper. And I just went on from there.
I still remember a very early picture book, and it’s not exactly obscure. Harold and the Purple Crayon. I very much remember reading that as a kid and how much I wanted to be able to, you know, create things just by drawing them. And instead, I create things by writing them, so I do think that was an influence on the whole sort of wanting to make up things. Those very early books can have quite an impact.
Exactly. And, you know, that’s a really interesting point you make. I lived down the block from these two really talented visual artists. I mean, they were kids, but to my mind, they could draw things that look like things. The Minott Brothers. And I was not great at that. And so, I had a kind of breakthrough moment one year when I said, “Well, OK, I’m going to make a comic strip like they’re doing. But first, I’m going to write the story out, and then I’ll see if I can figure out how to draw it.” And then I had this writing of a story, and I thought, “Well, maybe this has something already without the pictures.” And that broke open the floodgates for sure. So that transition from the books with pictures to books with words was a real light bulb moment for me.
Where did the giant manual typewriter come from?
My parents. I don’t know where in the world they got it. It was very old. You know, it just was must have been sitting around as junk somewhere in the house, and they decided that my hands needed something to do. So, it got hauled up to the desk that I had in my room, and I just banged banged banged.
So, you were eight, I presume you continued writing then as you went on through school and high school. How did that all work for you?
Yeah, I kept going in high school. I wrote a lot of pretty bad twist ending stories for the high school literary magazine. I think probably the worst thing I ever wrote, but that I was so proud of at the time, is from the point of view of this narrator who is walking through this post-apocalyptic landscape. Everything is destroyed, it’s sort of a nuclear wasteland. And then, the narrator looks in a puddle and sees its reflection. And the last line of the story is, “Cockroaches: the sole survivors of a war that couldn’t be won.” Terrible. So, this narrator the whole time was a cockroach. And to me, that was like the height of cleverness, but I suppose it at least got me started.
I did . . . at Denver WorldCon, I suggested a panel that they accepted, and it was writers reading their juvenilia, which I think has been done in other places as well. But it was me and Connie Willis and Sarah Hoyt and Joshua Palmatier. And we were all reading . . . Connie actually read from the romance stories, true romance stories, that she wrote when she was starting out for the confessions magazines. But I actually read from some of my high school stuff. So, I was brave.
Solid gold, that stuff. Right? I mean, where would we be, right, if we hadn’t done that? And not only if we hadn’t done that, but if we hadn’t felt good about it at the time. You know, we can look back and question it, but it’s great that we had some early moments of pride, even around stuff that later on we might even regret a little bit.
Did you have a teacher or somebody along the way there that was influential on you in the, sort of the high school years?
Yeah, unbelievably so. There was this teacher . . . I went to Central High School in Philadelphia, which is a big, big school, and I suppose you could get lost in there. Maybe a thousand students, something like that. But this one teacher, Carole Nehaz, taught a creative writing class that just brought me fully to life. I felt, you know, I thought endlessly about that class. I poured a ton into what I was doing there. And even though she must have seen as a grown-up that I was writing things that were kind of silly and kind of predictable in a way, she just gave me a lot of encouragement . . .or more like she gave me a lot of license to keep going. And that really mattered a lot. So, yeah, I have put her on the acknowledgment page of my books because she mattered enormously.
I did that in a novel of mine called The Cityborn. I dedicated it to Tony Tunbridge, who was my Grade 7 or 8 English teacher, because I wrote my first complete short story about that age. It was called “Kastra Glazz: Hypership Test Pilot.”
If I can ever find it, it’s going online for sure. But I don’t know what happened to the copy of it. But he took it seriously, and he, you know, he said,” I don’t understand why your aliens act like this, and I don’t understand what your character did this stupid thing.” And he, you know, he marked it up and took it very seriously. And I’ve credited him because if you find an adult who takes your writing seriously, it makes you think, you know, “Next thing I’m going to write is going to be better,” at least that’s how it was for me.
Yeah. Same here.
Now, once you got to university, did you study creative writing, or what exactly did you go into?
Well, that’s a little bit of a story. I chose my college because it had a strong creative writing program. But then I got there, and I felt like everything I encountered was really kind of pretentious. And I really didn’t enjoy my creative writing classes there. I just took a couple, and then I backed out, and I picked a major for maybe the dumbest reason that you could pick a major. But I was taking a psychology class at the time. It was supposed to be a philosophy class, but my handwriting on the sheet that I filled out for what classes I wanted was so bad that they thought it said psychology.
So, I got into psychology class, and everybody was really nice. And so, I kept going with psychology, and I sort of dropped out of the creative writing, the academic piece of that, though I was always writing along the side. And I went off to graduate school in psychology at the University of Wisconsin, and I really enjoyed that. And I went for my Ph.D. there. But all along, I was running off and cheating on psychology with creative writing. I was taking classes in creative writing. Jesse Lee Kercheval is another name of a professor who turned my life around by taking me seriously at a crucial moment. And it got to the point where I actually enrolled in an MFA program while I was finishing up my Ph.D. in psychology because it was becoming clearer to me that that was the direction I had to go. There was a long detour, and I don’t regret it, a lot of cool things happened in psychology, but it is undeniably not a straight path.
Well, the fact that you did go so far in psychology and you write, well, characters are all about psychology to a certain extent. Has your training in psychology helped you when it comes to things like characterization and storytelling, do you think?
Gosh, you would think so, you know? But I think the distinction for me was I studied social psychology, which is really about how the environment affects an individual, other people, how social pressure and social opportunity affect people. I was really trying to save the world, you know, “How do you make people recycle or take on racism?” And I was looking at that. So, what you do is you run these studies, and you take averages across lots of people. And it’s a great way to learn about folks. But it’s almost, in a way, the opposite of fiction, where in psychology, you ask lots of people a question and average them in fiction. You look at one person really closely and generalize to everybody, or at least to a lot of people. So, they’re quite different from each other. And it ends up that the fiction way of knowing is much closer to the way I think and the way I the way I’m interested in thinking.
So, when did the creative writing start to turn into actual published things?
During that same period before I enrolled in the MFA program, but while I was doing the psychology degree, this teacher, Jesse Lee Kercheval, just kept encouraging me to take myself seriously and to send stuff out. And I got really, really lucky that the first story that got published, first of all, it wasn’t rejected a ton of times, it was rejected, I think eight times, which is nothing in the grand scheme of things. And the magazine that took it, this little magazine from Florida called Oasis, and they only had five hundred subscriptions or something like that, but the letter from the editor was . . . it’s usually not like this, usually it’s, “We’d like to publish this.” But this was so detailed about why he wanted to publish that story. It was so affirming and positive. The publishing world can be really bruising, but it was such a gentle start that it maybe made it easier when the bruises started coming.
They did come?
Oh, yeah. I had one story that . . . this is a story I like to tell because at first it sounds like I’m bragging, but then you realize how dark everything is. So, my first collection of stories (Between Camelots – Ed.) won a prize, and it was the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. And that’s maybe the prize I wanted most in the whole world. And it won another prize as well. And the title story of that collection also won a prize when it was published. But before it was published, that story was rejected sixty-one times.
So, you know, if I had held back, maybe it wouldn’t be in print. Maybe that book wouldn’t exist. If I had said, “Well, 50 rejections is a lot. Maybe I should give up on this thing.” Who knows? Would I be here now? So, the thing I’m always telling my students, I tell them that story, and I say, “What’s the number of rejections before you should give up on a story?” Well, you should give up once you’ve asked every single magazine that exists.
I was going to say I’m not even sure I could find sixty-one markets, at least not when I started out. In pre-Internet days, I certainly couldn’t have.
Well, there’s so many places out there. I had my copy of Novel and Short Story Writers Market, and I just went alphabetically.
Hmm, that’s a lot. Well, I guess were those . . . this is really dating me . . . these would be electronic submissions? You didn’t have to send them out with postage attached.
Now, unfortunately, I predate that time. So those were all sent in the mail.
Oh, boy. I remember those days. Not particularly fondly.
Yeah. I’m so glad to not be doing that anymore. Though there was something, there was, in a way, a nice ritual about going to the post office, and I would kind of wave my hands over the envelopes. “Godspeed, may you find a home!” kind of thing. But it is much nicer to be able to seek them out from the computer at home, especially these days, of course,
I think there’s a . . . I mean, an email rejection is one thing, but when that envelope actually came back with the story still in it, that was always a sad moment.
Oh, yeah. And sometimes, if it was a long story and they sort of jammed it into the return envelope, I thought, “Well, I wasn’t even meaning for you to return it. I thought you were just going to, you know, send the rejection note,” and they’d clearly, like, laboured to force it into this envelope. It was a sad sight for sure.
Oh, well. You now teach creative writing and literature. So how did you end up doing that?
Sort of little by little. You know, I had this degree in psychology, and the natural thing would have been to teach in that. And I did a little bit, just adjunct in Philadelphia when I moved back there after the degree. But I was really just trying to build up some publications. And so, I tried to get more and more things published, and then we moved to New York, and there’s a great outfit there called Gotham Writers Workshops that you may have seen online. But they took a chance on me, who hadn’t taught creative writing before, and they just let me try myself out a little bit, and I got some great experience there. And then, you know, a little adjuncting here, a little adjuncting there. I got a teaching gig at a wonderful college called Earlham College for five years out in Indiana, and then after that came to Georgetown.
And it’s sort of a weird situation at Georgetown, in a very nice way, that I teach creative writing in a Jewish studies program, which, as far as I can tell, I’m the only person in the world doing that. But basically, the program felt, well, we’ve got to have some humanities, or else this becomes entirely about the Holocaust, entirely about Middle East politics. And we can’t just have Judaism be about conflict. It also has to be about the things that we’ve created and made. And there are so many wonderful Jewish authors that it’s not hard to put together some courses where students learn to write and the folks that they’re studying are Jewish authors. So, I teach poetry. I teach fiction. I teach a little bit about identity development. I do some literature. They give me a lot of room to teach the things I’m excited about. And then I’m in another program that’s . . . folks who want to go on and shape the higher education landscape are in this master’s program, and I teach a course on creativity for those folks. And that’s what I’m teaching this semester.
Sounds very interesting. Now, I often ask authors who teach, and I’ve done a very small amount of teaching and mentoring and been a writer in residence and that sort of thing, do you find that teaching feeds back into your own writing in some ways so that you, you know, like the line from The King and I, “if you become a teacher by your students you are taught,” do you find that that’s true for you?
It is true for me and in a variety of different ways. Sometimes it produces a kind of pressure that I hadn’t realized I was missing out on. So, one of the things I’ve done when I’ve taught introduction to creative writing, you know, I teach a little poetry, a little fiction, a little nonfiction, a little drama. And after a while, I realized I was teaching drama, but I wasn’t writing it, and something felt off about that. So, I started writing plays, and I’ve done a little bit of that since then, all because the class made me feel like I ought to. And it turns out they’re really fun to work with. But also, I learn a lot from students . . . in particular, students who are just getting started, get themselves into the most interesting possible messes. You know, they write a story, and something crazy happens that makes the story kind of fall apart at the end. And I think, “What is it? What went wrong here?” And watching that and studying that helps me to see what you need to do to make a story work. And then, of course, there’s also that when they succeed at something that’s a model, too.
Yeah, I think it’s . . . when you’re doing any kind of teaching or mentoring or whatever, you’re concentrating very much on a lot of different work often, but it’s that very close reading of something to try to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, I find that that impacts me thinking about my work when it comes time for revision and that sort of thing as well.
Now, when did your first novel come along?
Well, that’s a sort of ridiculous story. So, you know, first published novel versus first novel. I have seven unpublished novels, which, God willing, will never be published because they’re not very good. But I wrote my first one in college. That doesn’t count the Smurf one, which is actually under ten pages. So, calling it a novel was a little presumptuous. But yeah, I wrote a full-length novel in college that was not very good, and I started another one in college, also not very good. And I wrote five others that were not very good. Apparently, it takes a lot of practice to do this well. But I didn’t see it that way. At a certain point, I thought, “You know what, I’m a short story writer.” By that point, I’d had a couple of published short story collections. I felt like, “OK, maybe I know how to do stories at least a little bit. I don’t understand novels, and I’m not going to keep forcing it.” I had one novel that I sent to an agent who said, “You are distorting a short story. This should be a short story, and you’ve turned it into a novel.” It was very kind of her actually to do that.
So, I decided I’m not going to try this anymore. So, I set out to write a short story called Miss Portland. And, of course, that turned into my first published novel. Because, you know, I decided I’m not going to distort this thing. I’m going to take it as long as it needs to go. And no shorter and no longer. And then it was novel-length, and apparently, it worked out. And here we are.
Does all of your fiction fall into the sort of speculative fiction side of things or some fantastical element, or have you written mainstream fiction, as they call it?
It’s actually quite a mix. The novel Miss Portland is entirely realistic.
That’s what I thought from reading the description.
Yeah. It’s about a woman who is suffering from bipolar disorder and is trying to figure out how to get her life right. It’s quite realistic. But then there are stories in my collection, The Guy We Didn’t Invite to the Orgy and Other Stories, that are magical realist or otherwise speculative . . .
That’s a great title, by the way.
Oh, thanks. Yeah, well, I was at an artist colony one time, and somebody came to the breakfast table, and they said they’d heard a rumor about this place before they got there. And the rumor was that there had been an orgy at this place. And I thought, “OK.” And she said, “But the thing is, one guy wasn’t invited.” And I thought, “Now that’s a story, right?” I mean, an orgy is not a story, but an orgy where one guy doesn’t get invited is a story. So, that became the genesis of that whole collection. So those range quite a bit. And then you have this How to Mars, which is quite speculative. And then the novel I’m working on that hopefully will come after that is also speculative. So, I do range a bit, though. I think I’m getting more and more drawn into the speculative world.
But we’ll talk about why you’re drawn into it when I get to the big philosophical questions at the end, I have two things I want to put reverb on mists of time and big philosophical questions. I haven’t done it yet.
I support you if you do,
You also write poetry, which interests me. I committed one book of poetry, so I was interested, but I certainly don’t think of myself as a poet. It was a very odd way that came about. But when did you start writing poetry, and what drew you into that?
Well, first of all, I just want to applaud your courage and admitting that you write poetry. It’s socially unacceptable, but we all have to be honest about who we are. Yeah, I do. Hi, my name is David, and I write poetry, and I do it because there’s material I have that doesn’t make sense in any other form. I’ve written stories that didn’t want to be stories, and so they had to become poems because I was more interested in the imagery or the language than I was on the this happens and then this happens, and then this happens. So, I found that poetry is a great outlet for me to do different things. And I like to have room to do different things so that I don’t lose any of the things that interest me.
Well, to be fair to real poets, my poetry book came about because of . . . during Poetry Month in 2018, I think, the poet laureate of Saskatchewan, Gerald Hill, started this thing where he sent out every day, every weekday during poetry month, to every member of the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild, he sent out two lines of published Saskatchewan poetry, published Saskatchewan poets, I should say, and the challenge was to either create a new poem using those two lines or creating a poem that was inspired by those two lines and they were, you know, not necessarily connected in any way, and much to my surprise, I wrote a new poem every day using the two lines that he provided. But they’re really stories in poetic form. They’re not poems in some ways because I was still a story writer, but I just put them into a kind of a poetic form, and it turned out quite successfully. Of course, at the end of that, I had twenty-four poems, and so I put out my only book of poetry.
Well, so far. So far. So far. Life is long, God willing. So, well, we’ll see how that goes.
Oh, nice. Well, you know, I think there’s a lot of room to try a lot of things in this world. And I think none of us should allow ourselves to get pinned down as being one kind of thing. It’s too limiting.
I like to imagine I can write anything. That just may be ego, but . . .
No, I think you can write anything.
OK, so let’s talk about How to Mars as an example of your creative process. Before we do that, perhaps you should synopsize it for those who may not have read it yet because it’s not out, so . . .
Right. So fair enough. How to Mars on a certain level is about these six people who, for various personal reasons, agree to go on a one-way mission to Mars. And it’s a pretty, to be honest, dubious mission because it’s run by a really eccentric organization that’s funding the whole thing with a reality TV show. And they have one rule, which is no sex on Mars because it’s dangerous. But of course, everybody breaks that rule. Or, actually, a couple of people in the book break the rules. So, the novel starts with the line, “This is how I find out Jenny is pregnant on Mars.” And the book takes us through the experience of these folks trying to figure out what to do about new life on Mars. And meanwhile, the engineer is getting a little bit angrier and more difficult to work with and perhaps dangerous, and they’re encountering some signs of indigenous life that might not be entirely friendly, and they’re also trying to figure out whether they’ve really left behind the things that they meant to leave behind.
So that, you know, that’s kind of the one level of reading the book. And on the other level, I think it’s really just about how to live life, given that we’re thrown onto a planet without a lot of instructions. In our case, it’s Earth, in their case, it’s Mars, but it’s sort of, “How do you do this thing? How do you deal with life when we don’t know exactly what we’re here for or what we’re supposed to do? How do you do it? How do you Mars? How do you Earth?”
So, what was the inspiration for this, and how does that compare to the way that you normally find . . . you mentioned how the story about the guy who wasn’t invited to the orgy came about. How do stories usually come to you, and how did this one specificallycome to you?
They come in so many different ways. Sometimes a thing happens in my life that I am having trouble getting a grip on. So, I want to write my way into it. Sometimes I hear a really strange anecdote, or I encounter something in the news that’s baffling. The one thing that holds it all in common is it always starts from a place of me not understanding something and feeling nonetheless like I want to. So, I start writing my way in order to try and figure something out. And in this case . . . were you aware as it was happening of the Mars One project?
Oh, yes. Yes, I remember that, yeah.
So, if any of your listeners are not aware, it was this crazy project that possibly was a scam. In any case, it’s gone quite dark now. But the original idea was to send some people on a one-way trip to Mars, and they too had the rule, no sex. And I thought, well, that’s crazy. No one’s going to sign up for that. And then they announced something like 200,000 people had applied. Turns out they probably inflated that number, but certainly, thousands of people applied. And I watched a number of application videos, and my bafflement just grew and grew. I thought, who are these folks who would be willing to never see a tree again, never see the people they love? Some of these folks were married, you know, maybe not very, very happy marriages.
Makes you wonder.
Yeah, right. Some of them were parents, which is sort of inherently tragic. They wouldn’t feel a breeze on their face ever again unless it came from the HVAC system inside the dome on Mars. So, who are they? What would make you want to leave a planet forever? And that became the genesis of the whole book. And of course, Mars One, turns out they’re probably not going to send anybody to Mars, but my folks are already there. So, I guess I won that battle.
You do make the connection somewhere I was reading to Ray Bradbury’s Mars stories . . .
The Martian Chronicles.
The Martian Chronicles. For some reason, that name escaped me. It’s not like it’s a difficult one. The Martian Chronicles.
Yes, well, you know, he obviously . . . I grew up reading in particular the dinosaur stories, but also Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, all that good stuff. And what I like about the way he approaches Mars is that he clearly didn’t know anything about Mars. I mean, it was 1950. We hadn’t sent any probes by. So, he puts breathable air on Mars. He puts canals full of water. There are birds there, there are Martians who have families and are psychic, can do all kinds of crazy things. And so, he thrived on the lack of science that we had available to us about Mars. And he engaged in what he called mythology instead of hard science. And to some extent, I mean, my stuff is, I think, quite a bit more realistic than that. But it’s not totally realistic, and I’m much less interested in the science than I am in the people. So, in that sense, I’m trying to, I guess, live in his legacy of what kind of interesting things we learn about life and about people by being on this planet, not just about Mars.
So, once you had the idea, what does your planning/outlining process look like? Are you a big outliner, or do you just kind of launch into it?
I bounce back and forth, and this was a particularly unusual case because many of the chapters stand alone as short stories, or at least they originally did, and I massaged them a bit so that they do that a little bit less now. But so, they sort of popped out one by one here and there. But it’s like holding a handful of marbles. Once you have enough of them, you have to get a container because you can’t hold on to all of them. So, I sort of throw myself in, and then I come back out, and I organize, and I make a plan. And usually, the plan is substantially wrong. So, I come, I throw myself into the plan, and I come back out once I’ve realized how wrong it is, and I make a new plan and keep bashing myself against it until I have something. So, it’s a back and forth for me.
What do you actually write down in the way of notes or outlining?
Before the first thing I almost never write anything. I just sort of . . . the very first thing that happened to me was the line, “This is how I find out Jenny is pregnant on Mars.” And that line just came into my head, and I thought, “OK, let’s find out a lot more about that.” And I just wrote my way forward. And then, I wrote a second chapter, which is part of the instruction manual that my Marsonauts were given, and it’s called What You Can’t Bring with You. And it’s this list of really strange instructions about what they can and can’t bring on this trip. And some of it’s very physical, like, “You can’t bring an umbrella because it won’t fit in your bag.” And some of it’s much less practical, like, “You can’t bring the view out in your backyard, out your back window. Can you bring yourself? I don’t know. You’ll have to see.” So, I just threw myself into those things. And then when I had a few of them, I said, “OK, well, do they go together? And what would have to happen next for this to make sense as a book?” And I started filling in some of the gaps. And then that kept going forever. You know, I sent it to my agent who took it. But he then said that “I think you need a couple more chapters.” So, I filled in those spots, Tachyon took the book, and then they had some ideas about some things, so I filled that stuff in . . . it’s a long, long, long process, and it’s not always fun, but it is really fun to be on this side of it, that’s for sure. And at times during it, it’s also really fun.
How does that compare to your previous novels in the way that came together?
Miss Portland came together much more. I got much deeper into it before I had to come out and do any outlining because it’s a much simpler story. How to Mars has a lot of characters, several characters whose point of view you get. Miss Portland is really just from Zoe’s point of view, a close third-person point of view. And you stay with her, and it’s a pretty narrow period of time, it’s about two weeks, whereas How to Mars takes place across the length of a pregnancy and a little bit beyond. So, there’s just a lot more going on. And I even have to think about how to write from the point of view of Martians, you know, that I had made up. So, I had to come back out a lot more often and do planning. And at times, I was not sure at all that it was going to work. There were definitely times when I thought, “This can’t be a book.” But I guess the secret to being a writer is not listening to yourself very much when the self-doubt comes to a peak,
That’s for sure. What does your actual writing process look like?
Well, that varies, too. I think the way I like to do it. I actually didn’t really do it with this book. I like to write by hand first and then to type that up into a document. I like it because that way, I mean, it feels good writing. I have a nice fountain pen that I bought myself, and I enjoy using that. And I get a kind of free revision when I type it up where I what I type up is better than what I have down on the page because I’m not willing to just kind of put it over word for word, and I can see where things are problematic. But in this case, it was mostly done on the computer kind of directly. And then I would, when I was working on it, I would print it out write notes all over it, type up the revisions and then go from there.
I always wish I could still write by hand sometimes, but when I tried it a few years ago, I realized that I absolutely hate it now. I like the idea of it, but I just . . . I can barely handwrite anymore because I type everything and have for so long. I’m almost losing the knack of it.
It is a habit that you can either be in or out of. And it’s not always a great idea. You know, parts of this book, How to Mars, are in unusual formats. The astrophysicists, her chapters are all in the form of charts and graphs and tables and formulas. And that was relatively easy to do in Microsoft Word, and it would have been really tricky to do in handwriting. So, it’s not always the best move, but I do take a kind of pleasure in it when I can.
Do you get a chance to work for long, uninterrupted periods, or do you have to sort of fit it in around all the other things that you’re doing?
It’s more the latter, yeah, that I’m fitting in and around stuff. But over the summer, I typically take a couple of weeks and just take myself somewhere where I can get a lot of time, where I can kind of work all day. There are some retreat centers, one that I go back to a lot is the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, which is a great place in Virginia, obviously. And there are other artists and writers there. And so, you have interesting conversations over meals, and then you go back to your studio, and you just work continuously. And I find that if I could work four hours continuously, it’s not like four one-hour writing stretches, it’s . . . I get so much more done in four continuous hours than I do in four separate one-hour sessions, and so I count on that. I get a ton of my work done in the summer,
Our best version of that . . . well, there’s many . . . but the one that I have been to is the Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, right up in the mountains. And yeah, yeah, you can do a self-directed residency up there where they basically just give you a cheap, cheap place to stay in beautiful surroundings. And then you just write. I did 50,000 words in a week up there once, working on a book. So, I’ve only been twice, I think I’ve done for a couple of other programs but only done the writing residency, maybe only once. But yeah, it’s great to be able to do something like that.
It’s beautiful, isn’t it. I mean, think about that. Fifty thousand words. It’s amazing.
Yeah, it was. I was amazed.
So, you have the manuscript or whatever for . . . you said you sent it to your agent and there were revisions, and you sent it to the editor and there were revisions. Was that because of the nature of this book? Was that revision process perhaps a bit more intense than on your other books?
Well, I have to say, I always find revision incredibly painful. I think some people love revision because it’s the time when you’re getting it more right. And I feel that a little bit, but mostly revision makes me want to weep, like just soak my laptop with tears basically every time I’m revising because it’s like breaking a vase to try and build a new better vase, is how it feels to me. In reality, of course, it’s nothing like that, but it feels that way. So, every time I got revisions back, I thought, “Oh, God,” you know, and I went through the five stages of revision, which are for me being overwhelmed, being resentful, depression, deep depression, and then reluctant. . . so, you know, eventually I did what I needed to do in each case. And I luckily kept my resentment to myself because I got tons of good feedback. My agent is a really good reader, the folks at Tachyon are really good readers, but none of it makes me like revision. The only reason I do revision is because I care more about the book than I do about whether I feel bad or not. And that’s the key for me.
It’s interesting. I actually kind of enjoy revision, although I don’t enjoy being told what’s wrong with the book.
Wouldn’t it be great if someone just says, “Oh, you’re a genius,”
Yeah, there’s a famous Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy has gotten a rejection back, and he’s typing, he says, “Dear Editor, in regard to the recent rejection letter you sent me, what I really wanted you for you to do was to publish my novel and send me a hundred thousand dollars. What part of that did you not understand?”
I love that.
So, with the revision and now you’ve got your editorial process, and this book is not out yet, but the books that have come out, what’s that feeling like for you and what kind of feedback have you gotten from readers and how does that impact you?
It’s a really, really nice thing for the most part, when something comes out and you’ve gotten something published, even if it’s an individual poem or a story, but it’s amplified a lot if it’s a whole book, because there’s a different kind of attention that gets put on a book. And I think of it as the victory lap. That you get to just kind of share it with people, and you often get to share it with them to their faces and see their reactions happen in real time as you read to them. If it’s funny, and I hope that a lot of my stuff is funny, they laugh, right there in front of you. You know, if it’s sad that they make these little sounds of sympathy. I love that. And I love when there are reviews that come out. Those tend to be a really nice experience.
One thing that’s going to be interesting, though, of course, is this book’s coming out May 25, 2021, this year, which is to say still kind of during the pandemic, maybe a lot of people will have been vaccinated. I still don’t think they’re going to be a lot of bookstore events. So, the publicity staff at Tachyon is really energetic and creative and thoughtful. And they’re doing lots of cool things to promote this book. But bookstore readings, that really hasn’t been one of the things, because are people going to want to go sit next to each other, masks or not, no masks, and listen to a reading. So, I think this victory lap is going to be much more virtual than the others, which has its advantages, I get to talk to people from everywhere, I’m talking to you right now while I’m sitting in my bedroom, basically. But it also means that I don’t get to physically go places and interact with people in person. And also, I have to delay my trip to Mars, Pennsylvania, which I am looking forward to doing at some point for a photo op with the flying saucer they have in their town square.
I’ve always wanted to do, there’s a town in Saskatchewan called Rama, and I’ve always wanted to go there and stand in front of the sign, shake hands with somebody, get the picture taken, and then post it as a Rendezvous with Rama, which, of course, is the famous Arthur C. Clarke novel.
Oh, well, I wanted to go back just a minute because one thing I kind of forgot in the writing process was about characters. I mean, I asked you about psychology and characters earlier on, but how do you find the characters that populate your stories? How do they come to you, and how do you develop them?
Sometimes they come to me with a lot already done. The novel, Miss Portland, on some level, was an attempt for me to get a little bit closer to a couple of women in my family who I lost over the last dozen years. And so, things that it had always struck me about them were present in this character as I began to write, and she went on to become her own person and quite different from them in her way. But I started on the page with a lot because there were these people in my life. The folks on Mars were not connected to people that I knew and are not connected to people I know. And so, it was a slower process. And in fact, one of the greatest things that anyone did for me in this process is, the Kenyon Review offered to publish the first chapter of the book as a story, but they wanted me to do some revision, which, of course, made me want to cry. But it was really good advice. They said they just needed to know more about why they were there, why were they on Mars. And it was a thing that I had been sort of thinking about and never really solved to my own satisfaction. And that question . . . and especially because there was some pressure on, like, they weren’t going to publish this if I didn’t figure that out. So, there was some pressure there, and it was the key question and unlocked the whole book. And from that point, I kind of thought, “I think this is going to be a book. I think this is going to work.” And it’s really thanks to that editor who asked me a tough question.
Characters are always interesting because ultimately, the only people we really understand, and we may not even understand that, is ourselves. And so, characters are really versions of ourselves, influenced by observations of the people around us, I think is the way I usually kind of think of that. Do you feel that there’s a lot of you in your character sometimes?
Yeah, I think in one way or another, there has to be, though, for me, what it often takes the form of is my confusion. And as I say, I’m always writing out of this lack of understanding that seems to be my perennial problem. But it’s a really productive problem, so I’m OK with it. And what I’m writing into it, these characters are things that I that have stuck in me that I don’t understand either about me or about something I’ve observed about other people. I’m often trying to write my way into a position of empathy when I’ve encountered somebody that I’m not sure I get or even that I’m not sure that I like a lot. I want to understand what’s going on for them because I really believe everybody has a story that helps us. If we knew, it would help us to empathize with where they are right now, so that those moments of confusion caused by encounters get lodged in me. And I write characters out of those places a lot of the time.
Well, this may tie in now to my big philosophical questions. There are three. The first one is, why do you write? Why do you do this? Why, why? Why? The second one is, why do any of us write on, you know, like a species level or the level of humanity as a whole? Why do people write? And then, I guess, the third one is why stories of the fantastic, because you said you’re getting more and more into that side of writing. So, those are the three big philosophical questions.
They’re good ones. Thank you for those. “Why do you write?” is really tied to what I’ve been saying about not understanding things. I write basically to figure things out. There’s so much that I see in the world that baffles me and that I find confusing, and that I want to understand better. And so, I try to write my way towards understanding. So, for example, when I was looking at this Mars One project, I was thinking, who would do this? Who in the world would do this? And the answer couldn’t be nobody, because I’m looking at the videos and seeing people are signing up to go to Mars forever. So that made me want to understand who they might be and what that might mean, so that that was a motivation there. But all of my stuff comes out of trying to figure things out. And also, on a side note, I just feel good when I’m, you know, not necessarily in the moment that I’m writing, but if I write regularly, I am a happier person. Then if I take long periods of time off, you know, if I get really grumpy, a lot of times my wife will say to me, would you just go write already? Because you’re getting on my nerves? And I’ll grump and say something like, “It’s not that.” And then I go write, and I come out and I say, “It was that.” Thank you for being so nice to me. So, I do it also because it’s the way I’m at my happiest, I think. So that’s, “Why do I write?”
It’s a harder question to answer, “Why do I think anybody writes?” I mean, my assumption is that there are lots of reasons why. There’s pleasure that we can have and possibilities we can encounter when we mess with words. Maybe we’re trying to learn something or articulate something or capture something. Maybe we’re just having fun. Maybe we’re getting revenge on somebody who was mean to us in middle school. I think there could be a ton of reasons, but I think the one thing that all of us have in common is that we’re not just talking to ourselves, that when you write, you’re using a medium that is interpersonal. Even if you don’t share it with anybody, you’re using language, which is an interpersonal tool. So, there’s a kind of an invisible listener, and most of us do want to share our stuff with others. So, there’s a kind of a larger conversation that we’re participating in or that we want to. And, when I was growing up, my mother, she was wonderfully, she kept her books in bookshelves out in the hallway, or when we moved to another place, in the living room, they weren’t in her room. And that meant that we all, my sister and I, could go read them whenever we wanted, which was wonderful. And I looked at those bookshelves, and I thought, “There’s a conversation going on here, and I want to be part of that.” And I think that was part of what fueled me, is looking at all these authors talking and wanting to get into that conversation.
So. That’s that one. And then, why fantastical stories? Well, we talked about Ray Bradbury earlier. He has a quote that I love. He says, “Science fiction is a great way to pretend you are writing about the future when in reality you are attacking the recent past and the present.” I just love that. You know, I think we think when we read science fiction, this is this isn’t about now, but I think a lot of really good science fiction is about now. And I write about fantastical worlds because it’s an exciting way for me to write about this world, you know, or, put another way, I didn’t write about Mars because I wanted to study Mars, I wrote about Mars because I wanted to study people, Earth people. And Mars seemed like a place where I could just isolate a few of them to look really closely and get to know them really, really well under circumstances that would be likely to test them and show who they really were.
And what are you working on now?
Well, I’m finishing up a novel that has time manipulation at the center of it that I hope will be my next novel, and I’m also thinking a little bit about whether How to Mars is the end of the story or whether there might be room for a sequel or two. So, you know, as I finish up this next book, the question becomes what’s next. And I’m missing Mars a little bit. And I’m wondering if I want to go back.
And where can your readers find you online?
Well, my last name is a bit of a pain, I’ll admit right now, but on my website is David Ebenbach.com. And I would say just look at the Web page of the podcast you’re looking at right now and get the spelling from there. So, you can find me at DavidEbenbach. com. But I’m also on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. I’m on Reddit. I’m one of the rare people on Reddit who uses his real name. Find me there and all around, do a little Googling and you won’t have any trouble.
All right. Well, that’s kind of brings us to the end of the time here. So, thanks so much for being on The Worldshapers. I certainly enjoyed that. I hope you did, too.
Thank you. This has been really fun.
And the book comes out when?
May 25th of 2021, this year.
From Tachyon Publications, I guess is the name. Or is it Tachyon Books?
I was right the first time. So, I will have links and all that kind of stuff when this goes live, which will still be before the book comes out. So, watch for it in the very near future as this podcast comes out. So again, thanks so much, David.
R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Ukraine, Russia, and Israel to the US. Their stories and poems have appeared in Lightspeed’s Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, Uncanny Magazine, Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology, People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy, and more. R.B.’s work has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, and other awards. Many of R.B.’s stories are situated in Birdverse, an LGBTQIA+-focused secondary world. Their Birdverse novella The Four Profound Weaves has just been released by Tachyon Publications.
In their academic life, R.B. is a sociolinguist working on immigrant discourse, identity, and gender. R.B. lives in Lawrence, KS with their spouse Bogi Takács, child Mati, and “an odd but cheerful community of books.”
The (Lightly Edited) Transcript
So, R.B., welcome to The Worldshapers.
Thank you so much for having me.
Now, we have not met in person, I don’t think, at all, but I’ve been talking to several Tachyon authors. Then I started doing the research, and you seemed like a really interesting person to talk to, so I’m looking forward to this.
Now, I always start off the same way, by taking the guests back into what I usually call the mists of time, more misty for some of us than others. And so, let’s start there, because Ukraine, Russia, Israel—where did you grow up and how did you get interested in science fiction and fantasy and writing?
Well, thank you so much for asking this question. As you can imagine, it is not an easy question for me to answer, because I’m from many places. So, I was born in Lviv, Ukraine, under the Soviet regime. So, I was born in the Soviet Union. My parents lived in Lviv for a while and then, due to a variety of reasons—some of them had to do with my father, who was an underground activist a little bit and had some trouble doing what he was doing. My father and my mother then went to Vorkuta, which is a circumpolar town in northern Russia. So, when you think about Fairbanks, Alaska, you know, the place, but up there in the north. It’s actually in northern Siberia. It’s on the European side of the Ural mountains, and it’s the only gulag site which was in Europe. My mother and my father had a relative there who said, “Well, it’s a place where you can actually come.” And they went there. And I lived there with them on and off. I lived with my grandmother in Lviv, and then I lived with my parents in Vorkuta until the Soviet Union started collapsing, and the situation became really, really dire, including for my family. And we sought to leave the Soviet Union as it was collapsing. And we wanted to go to the U.S., but the U.S. had quotas, as it always has, so we couldn’t actually go to the U.S., so we went to Israel. And from there, I received my undergraduate there in linguistics, and then one of my mentors said, “Well, you should go to the U.S. and study there for graduate school if you want to do graduate school.” So, I thought that was an interesting idea, and I applied to Berkeley, and they accepted me, which was really exciting. And so, I went to Berkeley, and I was in Berkeley for my Ph.D., and then I got a job. So, this is my trajectory.
As to what got me into fantasy and science fiction, I think with a background like this, you kind of almost have to. It’s not…you don’t necessarily have to, but if you do, nobody is going to be very surprised. So, my family, like for many geeks, nerds, or whatever you want to call us, my parents were into sci-fi, especially my dad. And so, when I was very little, my dad, first of all, also was into mythology and folklore, and so from a very early age, my dad, and my mom to a lesser degree, my dad would tell me fairy tales and read things to me from memory. It’s something that exists in Russian culture. A lot of people memorize poems. And with my father from, like, toddler age, I would memorize Pushkin’s fairy tale poems, I was really into them. And then, again, I remember, as a little child, I would read, I would get from my parents various mythology and folklore books. And I got also a lot of oral tradition from my family and from friends. And I was really into everything fantasy from as, you know, as young as I can remember myself. I was wandering around and I was making up worlds. I made my first constructed language at a very, very young age. I later found that it’s actually common among linguists specifically to invent constructed languages when they’re kids. So, when I started, you know, studying linguistics at the university, I met a lot of other people who had their own constructed languages and who wanted to become writers.
I didn’t actually want to become a writer for a while. I was content with, you know, thinking I would be a linguist. The problem with being a writer, it’s not that I didn’t want to because I know that I’ve written on and off—and there is also some trauma involved in this that I don’t want to get into—but I’ve written on and off. But it was really difficult for me to figure out in what language I wanted to write. And I’ve tried writing…so, the languages in which I’ve written something are varied, but they certainly include Russian. I’ve done a little bit in Ukrainian, not too much, but that was a very long time ago. I’ve done a lot in Hebrew, when I was 18, and then I’ve also written a bit in Yiddish and a bit in Czech and in Bulgarian, like, I’ve tried my hand in all the various languages that I’ve studied or felt close to at different points in my life. And then, uh, yeah, I started writing in English. When I moved to this country, I didn’t feel like I could ever write in English. I felt that my English was just not there, and I felt very self-conscious. And then, I met Shweta Narayan through Berkeley. Shweta also went through linguistics at Berkeley, and we had a mentor, who was the same mentor. So, we met through Eve, who was our mentor. And Shweta helped me. And she said things like, “It’s OK not to be a writer of a hegemonic English, and it’s OK to think about things from the perspective of a diaspora writer,” or, you know, multinational, or whatever it is that you call it. And together, we kind of explored this because Shweta also is multilingual and comes from various countries. And so, together, we started exploring the issues that kind of related to not being American, to writing in English while you’re not actually writing in your native tongue or even, you know, it’s not immediately your inheritance.
And so, we started exploring these issues. And Shweta went to Clarion. I did not do workshops for various reasons. So, we started editing this magazine called Stone Telling Magazine. I founded it, and Shweta joined me as a co-editor. And we edited a poetry magazine, which was subtitled A Magazine of Boundary-Crossing Poetry. And we looked for specifically multilingual queer, trans voices, voices of color, voices from many marginalized communities. And it kind of coalesced as it went on. And I started also publishing fiction at the time. Slightly earlier, before I started the magazine. I was publishing fiction for a short time before we started the magazine. So, doing the magazine and editing the magazine, I think, really helped me become braver about what I had to say. Because I saw the poets from all kinds of backgrounds, from all kinds of countries around the world, reach into kind of the deepest, most vulnerable place to speak about their experiences through the lens of speculative fiction. Well, speculative poetry in that case.
And that has just been extremely powerful for me, to witness how transformative the works of fantasy, science fiction, horror, magic realism, et cetera, that fall under the spec umbrella can be to express our identities and struggles and hopes and dreams as people who do not necessarily fit into the straight and narrow, so to speak, paradigm of who gets to write what. And then, it kind of, from that place where I was so uplifted by how much the poets and the essay writers who sent us their work were brave and vulnerable and brilliant, that my work itself changed. So, I was already writing fantasy. I love fantasy. So, I was already writing fantasy, but I began writing in Birdverse, which is the universe of my upcoming novella from Tachyon, which is coming out next week, and I’m really excited about it. So, that’s kind of the long and the short of it.
What drew you to linguistics?
Well, it’s awesome.
Just the love of language?
Well, I think linguistics…so, when we think about linguistics, we think about language having a fundamental place in human experience. Language is not a universal for everybody. Not everybody uses language the same way. Some people don’t use verbal language at all, they use other means of communication. But language is such a fundamental thing for human experience. For many social science and humanities disciplines, language underlies everything. So, when you want to answer questions like…
So, here’s a more nerdy answer. When I was 14, and I’d just migrated to Israel, I was very miserable. Immigration was really hard on my family. And so, I was really, really miserable. And a friend gave me a translation of Lord of the Rings, the first book, into Russian, which existed, but it was kind of rare, and I’ve never seen it before. This was in the mists of the early 1990s, now you can figure out how old I am, but it’s not hard. So, I read it in Russian translation and the preface, which Russian editions often do, there was a beefy preface which said, “J.R.R. Tolkien was a linguist and philologist and here were his interests and here’s how his interest shaped this world.” So, I read this with great interest because it really intrigued me that you could study ancient languages from a comparative perspective, which I already knew about, but I didn’t know about in detail. So, I read the book. I loved the book. There was no second or third translation into Russian that I knew about, and I couldn’t get my hands on it. So, I began teaching myself English, which was a really interesting process. I knew English a little bit already. I had some English in school, but I was not fluent, and I couldn’t read in it, it was really difficult. So, I began teaching myself English just to read this book. And I’m neurotypical. I’m also very stubborn. So, when I focus on something, I just go. And I learned English, and I read the books.
And by the time I finished, which was about a year later, I said to myself, “Actually, I’m really interested in all those works that Tolkien was inspired by, so I’m going to seek them out.” So, I began in high school, I began teaching myself, Old Norse, teaching myself Old English, teaching myself Old French. And by the time I started reading these texts and got to college and started learning them, I was so deeply in love with historical linguistics and felt, that’s the more interesting stuff than Tolkien. And I’m still interested in Tolkien. I don’t want to lambast Tolkien in any way. But I was just so intrigued by the actual ancient and medieval texts that I wanted to become a historical linguist.
And then, when I started in college, actually learning historical linguistics, I expanded my horizons beyond things that interested Tolkien to other things. And that’s kind of a lifelong journey. I’m not a historical linguist. I did not go in that direction in the end, but I still have an interest in how languages develop, in how kind of the history of languages can really be inspiring to think about in terms of world-building. I have a deep love of world-building. So, I think language is an integral part of world-building and to world-building, which is informed about cultures which are not all the same. Because languages are not all the same in how they shape how we think. And so, that’s the intersection that really interests me. And that’s where the connection between the linguistics that I do in my academic life and my fantasy writing is.
Yeah, I was interested in the fact that you’ve written in multiple…I mean, I’m feeling very…I can speak English, and I learned a little bit of French because I live in Canada, and that’s kind of it. And so I always feel a little, you know, like I’m missing out on something and wish I was better on languages. But when you’re writing in different languages…like, as I understand it, there are some things you could say in one language that never really translate to another language because it’s so specific to the language and the culture. Is that a true statement?
That is absolutely a true statement.
And how would that affect this writing in various languages?
Well, thank you very much for that question. That’s actually a really important question. First of all, I want to say that knowing or studying more than one language is awesome. So, if you can do it, that’s great. Not everybody can. But I recommend that. I think it really opens up your world. It shows you how diverse human experiences are around the world in space and time. And it’s one way to see the incredible diversity of human experience—not the only way, but it’s a good way. But there are some writers who can do multiple languages at once in their writing. I’m not one of them. When I made the decision to write in English, I just gave it my all because…I think it would have to be either Russian or English at that point and, uh…and maybe, I don’t know, and maybe Hebrew. I’m not convinced.
But what English really opened up for me personally is the queer trans experience, because in English I had through friends who taught me the words and taught me the expressions, I had the vocabulary to express my queer non-binary trans experience in a way that I couldn’t really in either Hebrew or Russian, both languages which are very deeply grammatically gendered. So, you don’t only use pronouns which distinguish between genders, but you also do them with nouns, you do them with adjectives, you do them with verbs. And for many of them, certainly for Hebrew, you only get the feminine and masculine option. For Russian, you have a little bit more flexibility, but mostly for inanimate objects. So, it gets really fraught. And that’s something that I’m dealing with now also personally in my life. How do I talk about myself and my other languages? And also when we talk about translations. For example, I recently had a wonderful conversation with a translator who was interested in discussing with me what I want to do in Polish, not just for myself, but also for my characters.
And so, we had these discussions about how to work with these languages that have such deep grammatical gender that there are barriers which English doesn’t have. These barriers are surmountable. People do various things. But there’s just a very different approach than we have in English. And I felt liberated by English and also deeply sad that I can do it in a language which is not my native language. So, it’s created kind of like a bit of a struggle for me internally, and I express it in my fiction.
So, in The Four Profound Weaves, the main character, who is a trans man, transmasculine person, who grows up in a culture which is very binary. It’s not trans accepting. It’s queer accepting and queer normative, in fact, but it’s not trans accepting. And the language, which I built based on Semitic and Hebrew specifically, the language only has the binary options. So, that person feels alienated from his society because he needs to travel and seek help from different people whose language is more flexible, whose culture is more flexible. But that makes him feel an alienation from his own home culture, and he struggles with that. So, I feel that my fiction expresses some of these things that I think about when they think about language and the place of LGBTQIA writing specifically.
Then, I admire people, like, people who can do multiple languages at once and write bilingually. Actually, this is something that I’m exploring more and more now, having more code-switching, maybe not in Birdverse so much, but in my other works, which are kind of more magic realism, having more code-switching in there. I have supported poets and writers who want to have code-switching, which is untranslated, in their works. I think it’s really important.
So, one of the people that I published in Stone Telling, as well as in my collection that I edited called An Alphabet of Embers, who is better known as fan artist for her magnificent art. She wrote a series of these bilingual pieces where the translation is simply not offered. And I think that’s so powerful because I think I think we don’t need to control everything. Does that make sense? Like, we don’t need to understand every single word the other person is saying. It’s OK for them to have a way to voice their experiences which is not accessible to a reader who is not as familiar with those experiences. But it kind of, like, pushes against the paradigm that the editor needs to control everything the author produces. I don’t believe in that. And I also don’t believe that the reader necessarily needs to control everything that an author produces does. Does that make sense? Like, there has to be a space for partial understanding and just trust that the other person is giving you some of their experience, some of their experience which you won’t necessarily immediately understand. So, from that perspective…
Yeah, I think that does make perfect sense. I think whenever we’re…you know, even something that seems completely accessible, you are reading something that the author has things going on there that you’re not necessarily picking up on because of their background and their approach to the world. And so, I think even for something that seems on the surface to be completely accessible, there can sometimes be those kinds of hidden places where there’s something else going on. And that’s fine. And certainly, the more difficult text that we read that we don’t, you know, maybe don’t immediately penetrate what’s going on there quite the same way, that can be exciting. And I think in science fiction and fantasy in particular, it’s often that, encountering the strangeness and encountering those different ways of looking at things, that’s actually part of the appeal of the genre, at least to me.
I agree, I agree. And I think in science fiction and fantasy is where you often have this very intricate worldbuilding that shows you different worlds, you know, it shows you different models of being, that experiments with, even with language. There were plenty of science fiction and fantasy writers who thought about what other languages would look like and how it would express culture. I mean, Ursula K. Le Guin is such an amazing example of this is, but there’s many other writers who experimented with meaning and worldbuilding. So, for me, that’s the pleasure of reading sci-fi and fantasy as opposed to, I don’t know, realism, you know, that you can actually be transported.
You mentioned a little bit about The Four Profound Weaves and kind of gave a little bit of a synopsis of it. So, let’s segue over to talk about that. Is there more of a synopsis of that you want to give or more of an explanation of the book before we talk about how it came about?
Sure, sure. Sure. So, in The Four Profound Weaves, it’s set in Birdverse, which is my secondary world, which I’ve written them before. And this novella is a standalone. In this novella, two transgender people who are in their 60s, there’s a trans man and a trans woman, they’re friends. They team together on a personal journey, and they end up learning…they want to learn how to weave from death. One of them is seeking the mastery of the four profound weaves, which is kind of a goal she had all her life and couldn’t quite accomplish. And they end up fighting an evil ruler who imprisons rebellious women and hoards their bones and souls. And they fight, they have to fight this ruler by the means of learning how to weave from death. And so, it’s kind of a novella about art and craft and waiting for very many years for something to start happening in your life that you desperately wanted and desperately waited for, and kind of getting another chance at truly figuring out who you are and embracing yourself. And it’s also a story of the transformative power of art to push against a dictatorship and tyranny. And I also feel that it’s both a story about grief, because both of these characters have a lot of a past that they have to deal with, past lovers, people who died, people who betrayed them, people who weren’t there for them, people who tried to constrain them. So, there’s a lot of grief and regret about what didn’t happen earlier in life. But it’s also a story of hope and what we can accomplish, no matter how old we are, that it’s never too late to embrace your identity and become fully yourself. So that’s, I guess, the longer synopsis.
Well, it’s set in the Birdverse universe. So, my first question at this point is always that that old hoary question, where do you get your ideas? But in this case, how did the Birdverse come about, now that this novella has grown out of it?
You know, this is also kind of a complicated question. There’s a simple answer and a complicated answer, but I’ll give you the complicated answer because I like complicated things, and I hope it’s OK. I remember when I was 16, I read, I was in Ursula Le Guin, which is pretty clear from my writing. I love her. And I also knew her a little bit personally. And I read…I don’t even remember where I read it, and I might misremember it, but I read that Le Guin said that when she was little she had, with a friend, invented a story, a kind of like a beginner’s story world, which came from a bird. And I started thinking about that because I love birds. So, I started thinking about this, this primordial egg, which is also actually mythologically widespread, there’s a lot of mythology about the world egg, the first egg. And so, I started thinking about this bird, this bird that gives birth to a world. And over the years, the thought kept percolating. I wanted to write about this bird. And I wasn’t even writing. I was not writing in any language. I was writing very little. And I was, you know, drawing. I was making worlds, but I wasn’t actually making stories at the time.
And then, somewhere in graduate school, I made up a story of a linguist character, who is not in any published works, but I’ve written two novel drafts in which she’s a character, that are not published and hopefully maybe one day will see light, but maybe not. So, there’s this linguist character who goes out to do linguistics fieldwork in some other place. And I thought, well, maybe these are connected, and maybe this is the world of the bird. And so, this is how Birdverse, roughly, was born. So, this was all before I was even writing. And then, I started writing in a completely different corner of this world just because I thought of a story.
And the story came to me, and I said, “Well, what if it’s in the same world?” So, I started writing it. I had a few of my Birdverse stories published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Scott Andrews has just been an amazing editor. I always praise him because he is awesome. And so, he has this really wonderful ability, both a deep interest in worldbuilding but also in character. So, he’s the kind of person who is always seeking experiences that are maybe, you know, maybe people like he doesn’t yet know or…and he’s published a lot of very diverse authors, which is wonderful. So, Scott is very encouraging to me. So, I’ve written a bunch of stories, and they became popular, people who were drawn to them. And one of those stories was my Nebula-nominated story called “Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds,” which was a Nebula finalist and also was on the Hugo shortlist—longlist, sorry, not shortlist. I wish!—longlist. It was on the Tiptree long list. So, it got some attention. And so, there was a side character…Uiziya, the trans woman, was a very minor character in that story. And the nameless man who is a character also in The Four Profound Weaves was the grandparent of the main character in that story.
And so, for many years after that, it kept nagging at me, “Hm, I want to know what happened to these characters. I want to know their story.” So, my dad passed away in late 2016, and I was thinking about death, as one does when a parent passes away. And I was unable to write for a few months, I was dealing with grief, and when I emerged and started writing again, I wrote a bunch of stories, and then I felt that, “The time has come for me to answer the question of what’s the story of those older people.” And so, I wrote The Four Profound Weaves, and then Tachyon bought it. And here we are.
So, once you decided to do that story, what did your planning process look like? Do you do a detailed outline? Do you just write? How does it work for you?
I do not do a detailed outline. Oh, my God. I wish! I admire people who can do that. That seems so orderly and so good to me. I wish I could do it. I like planning, in my nonfiction and my academic work, I plan, but in my fiction, I don’t. But I do a little…I’m not a complete pantser. That I cannot say. So, tI always need to know what is, first of all, where are we starting? And it might not be where we end up starting, but kind of, I know the first scene, and then I know the last scene. And then I start figuring out what are the touchstones. In between those Points A and B, what are the big emotional scenes where the reader really will get the payoff of following my characters, and very often, scenes along the way that are very vivid to me, that I know how they’re going to look like. I want to know what they’re going to feel like when I’m going to write them. I want to imagine them. So, it’s like a movie that’s playing in my head over and over. So, I walk around, and the movie plays, and I think about that and come up with more scenes. A lot of my thinking about fiction comes when I’m in motion. So, I love walking when I can. The pandemic’s been really difficult that way for me, but I love walking, sometimes driving even, things happen. So, I need to be in motion. And then once I figured out enough of my, “Here’s A, here’s B, here are some touchstones along the way.” I try to connect them, and I start writing, and I start asking myself, “How do I lead from this scene to the next scene that I know is a pivotal emotional scene?”
So, in The Four Profound Weaves, I knew the beginning, and I started writing there, and I knew that the next big emotional point would be meeting with Uiziya’s aunt, Benesret, which happens in the desert. And so, I was writing towards that and then towards the next point and then towards the next point and then towards the next point until I reach the end. So, I can say that I’m a complete pantster, but it’s not very orderly. But that’s what it is.
Do you write it sequentially, like beginning to end, or do you write scenes and then knit them together?
I always write sequentially. That I cannot break myself from. And my friends often told me, try to just write the big scenes and then connect them and I cannot do that. I write sequentially.
Yeah. I’ve you know, I’ve talked to a few people that do it that way, and it wouldn’t work for me. I just start, and then it has to just keep flowing out.
Exactly. Yeah. Yeah.
What’s your actual writing process? Do you write, you know, the same time every day? Do you go out, obviously not now, maybe, but go out to the coffee shop or something? Or do you sit under a tree with a quill pen? How do you like to write?
So, I have a laptop and I’m kind of attached to my laptop. You cannot separate me from my laptop. Um, like, it’s my arm, third arm or, I don’t know, third stomach, second stomach, I don’t know. So, I write on the laptop, and I wish I could write at the same time every day, but unfortunately, I can’t commit to that just because I’m an academic, I’m a parent, you know, I work full time, I parent full time, especially now in the pandemic. I am married to another writer who also needs access to…and is also academic, Bogi is an academic as well. So, we kind of play it by ear a lot of times, but I do write every day if I can, too. I mean, things happen, and you can’t really write every day reliably if you have a disability or pain or you have, you know…maybe other people can, but I can’t always, because caregiving job, pain, you know, all of those factors combine to make my commitment to everyday writing not as firm as I would like, but I do try to write every day. Sometimes I only write fiction, sometimes I only write my academic writing, because that’s also a thing I need to write. As to where, I love writing in coffee shops. That has gone away for me, and that has been such a rough adjustment for me because I love coffee shops, and I’ve written most, I think, of my work in coffee shops up until the pandemic.
So, now that I can no longer write in the coffee shop, it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because lately, in coffee shops, I could not really be left alone. People recognize me, not necessarily because of my writing, but because they know me from various places. I’m in the college town, so it’s not huge, and I would always go to the same place. So, I would get interrupted, and I would talk to people, which is fine, I like talking to people, but I wouldn’t get as much done as I hoped for. So, being able to actually be in my room, which is my office, which was not set up at the beginning of the pandemic, but is now beautiful, it’s set up, and Bogi and I have worked out how are we going to divide the child care, and the kid is older, and he’s gotten into video games. That has been really cool because, while he’s playing video games, both of us can have some time to write. I prefer, my natural inclination is to write at night, late at night, when it’s quiet and dark. That’s when there’s no distraction, and that’s when I prefer to write. But honestly, I write whenever I can. So, if I have time, I try to do it. So, that’s my process.
Do you think of yourself as a fast writer or a slow writer?
OK, so I have two speeds, on and off. The off is when I don’t write. So, I told you I write every day, but I also can tell you that there are days when I don’t write. And by that, I mean I will write academic work. I will write nonfiction rather than fiction. And so, those days for me, I feel, “Oh, I haven’t written. I want to write.” Even though I’ve written. But when I really get…but these days are good days, when I’m not writing fiction, because I’m thinking about it and I’m planning and I’m strategizing and things are growing while I’m maybe not putting them to paper. But then, when I start writing, I begin writing, I can write things very fast because I’ve already thought about them so deeply. And I know sometimes even whole phrases that I’ve already made up in my mind, and I know them. I can write very fast. So, I think I’m neither slow nor fast. I just have variable speeds.
Once you have…you’ve started at the beginning, you’ve worked your way to the end. Then comes the revision process. What does that look like for you? Do you go back to the beginning, start the beginning, work your way through? Do you have beta readers? How does it all work?
So. immediately after I finish, I am tempted to immediately begin revising. All of my friends told me not to do it, and they’re all right, they’re all correct, and I’m not. But I can’t stop myself because usually, when I’m carried past the moment of the end, I have built so much momentum I am tempted to immediately start revising. So, I let myself do it. And in the first pass, I usually fix the issues that I already know are there. And I make the beginning work better with the end. And I fix sentence-level stuff, I fix some continuity issues. My drafts tend to be quite clean. This is my downfall because the fact that they’re are clean and readable doesn’t mean that they don’t need work. So, after I’ve done the second pass and I’ve completed the second pass, I usually do one of two things. Either I send it out to a beta reader, a friend who wants to read, and reads it for me. Sometimes it’s Bogi, sometimes it’s one of my other close friends. I mean, I just lost a very dear friend, Cory, who would read a lot of my stuff at that stage and…I’m sorry, it’s just still very raw. And after that, beta readers give me, or maybe they’re more alpha readers than beta readers at this point. They give me feedback, and they say, “Well, this worked, this didn’t work, or this is this is cool, or they didn’t understand. Then I usually put it away because it needs to bake a little bit. And then after a few weeks, sometimes a month, sometimes even more, but usually it’s a few weeks to a month, I come back to it, and I do a serious revision.
What sorts of things do you find yourself working on at that level, once it comes back for some serious revisions? Is it, like, characterization, plot, description, what sorts of things do you have to work on?
It’s always plot. It’s always plot. It’s always, always, always plot. I believe that each writer has a weakness or weaknesses and a strength or strengths. And so, I often when I give advice, I tell people, play to your strengths, emphasize the strong things, whatever it is, if it’s plot, work on plot, if it’s character, work on character, if it’s relationships, which is character work, too, work on relationships, if it’s world-building, work on that, just do what brings you joy. And then, in revision, you need to work on the things that you are less strong in. And my world-building, I think, is very strong. This is my strength. This is where I’m at home. This is what I want to do. My character work, I feel, I understand from other people, is strong. Like, people love my characters. People connect to my characters. So that’s all good. Plot, however, is not a strength for me. And I have put a lot of effort over the years into becoming better. A lot. But I’m not, and I’m not because I’m not into linear storytelling at all. I love a tapestry. I want worlds to be complicated. I want it to be interconnected. And I don’t like linear plots. However, people love linear plots, or at least A to B type of plots, and they’re easy to read, and they’re engaging. So, the bulk of my revision work is always plot, and it’s always pacing, like, knowing how to build pacing. That’s going to really make something pop. But it’s very rarely other things.
I was going to ask you about characterization. That sounds like something that you’ve got all worked out in your head before you start actually writing, then. How do you find your characters, and how do you go about building them?
Thank you. So, my characters. So, I think, over the years, I’ve talked to a fair amount of writers about characters and there are many very interesting approaches to building character. Some go a route that I think of as the D&D route, where you have a character sheet, and you kind of build the character on the sheet, which I think works. And it’s a great technique if you’re into it, where you write what they look like and their likes and dislikes and their strengths and weaknesses and all that. And from that, you build a character. For others, it is more like, this is a person. And for me, this is how it happens. I meet a person, and that person is a character in my world. Usually, they start out as secondary characters in my world, which is why people often feel, oh, it’s all connected. Yes, it’s all connected, but there’s no beginning. Like, there’s no canonical this is the first. I mean, The Four Profound Weaves is the debut, so I guess it’s going to be the first. But a lot of times, I write something, and there’s a secondary character, and I know very little about them. And when I finish writing, I start thinking, “Hmm, there was a little scene in the little place and that person was sitting somewhere in the corner, and the person said an interesting thing. I want to know that person a little bit better.” And so, I start, as I walk around before, long before, I start writing, as I walk around, I start imagining what the person is like. How do they move? Like, how do they speak? Like, what language do they speak? What are they wearing? Are they fat, thin, or maybe somewhere in between? Are they older or are they younger? What are their relationships like? Do they want something, to tell me something?
And then at some point, characters in my head start talking to me, and they start telling me a little bit. Usually, these are things that they don’t tell other people. Maybe nobody listens. Maybe it’s painful. Maybe it’s too personal. So I feel the storyteller, for me, how I see myself, the storyteller is the presence that, when you are alone, and you’re really conflicted or torn or in pain, and you want to tell something to somebody, the storyteller is that hovering presence in the empty room, who is listening to that voice, that then you say to an empty room, “OK, this hurts,” or “I want to tell a story from my childhood,” or “This is something I’ve never told anybody.”
And so, I think a lot of my character building begins there and begins with a secret, with something the character didn’t want to talk about. I write a lot about characters who are traumatized, who are neurotypical and/or disabled in some way. Trauma plays a major role in my storytelling. I want my storytelling to be both gentle in its treatment of trauma and also not to shy away from the fact that people have trauma in their lives. And so, once I learn a person’s secret, it becomes something really deep for me and really meaningful. I want to give them gentleness and healing. So, a lot of my readers have really appreciated that even when my stories get really dark, and they often get really dark, there is a place for healing. I am not there to break the reader. I want to unbreak the reader. And often, the readers who most appreciate my work are readers who themselves have marginalization. They come from places that maybe they have struggled and they have trauma. And so, they appreciate that perspective of caring that I bring to my storytelling.
So, I would think that if I spent maybe half or maybe a third of the time that I spend on my characters and plot, I would be golden. But I don’t. So, that’s why plot takes second seat, and it really shouldn’t because we need plots. A plot is a skeleton of a story, and it shouldn’t fall down without the skeleton. But think I’m just really into characterization, and I really love my characters. And if I write about them for a while, they become people to me, and I care about them.
Once you have the actual draft, as far as you’re going to take it, then it goes to an editor. What does your editorial feedback tend to look like?
So, I worked with some amazing editors. I’ve had so much luck in terms of my editors, and I think that editors, editors who understand the writer’s work, and want to make it better, are golden. And there are many wonderful people in the industry who are like that. At Tachyon, I worked with Jaymee Goh, and I worked with Jill Roberts. Both of them have had an impact on how The Four Profound Weaves was shaped when they accepted the novella.
It was much shorter, and they wanted it longer. It was still a novella, but it was shorter. They wanted it longer. They felt it needed more room. And so, with the help of Jaymee, who gave me…Jaymee, she gave me kind of, like, here’s where it can go, here are some of the things that we feel needed more development. And so, I sat with it, and then I revised it. And Jamie gave me very detailed and very sensitive editorial instructions, which just made, I feel…and then, when Jaymee was done with it, Jill, who was the managing editor at Tachyon, who’s also fantastic, Jill read it, and Jill gave me actual comments. Some of them I took, some of them I didn’t take. And it was just the most collaborative, constructive, and respectful process. And so, that’s one of the reasons I say that I love working with Tachyon because the people there are good. They’re good people. They’re sensitive. They want the story to be the best it can be. They’re committed to working with the writers. I really love that process.
I also had so much luck with Scott Andrews, whom I already mentioned. I’ve worked with other editors who were golden, too. But I think Scott, especially. I learned so much from him, especially when I was a new writer. Scott would ask me questions and try to understand why I made the decisions that I made, even when he thought a scene is dragging too long or too short or, “I don’t understand why this is happening” or “I don’t understand this character.” Scott always tries to understand where you’re coming from with a story.
So, I remember I was sitting in my office at work, and I got my first rewrite request from Beneath Ceaseless Skies. And I was thinking, “Oh, my God, this could be my second professional sale. I’m on my way to becoming a SFWA member.” I was really into it at the time. I am a SFWA member now. And the more I read of it, it was so long, and I was getting this feeling of fear. “I am never going to be able to do this. I don’t understand how this works.” And so, my friends, bless them, walked me through it and said, “No, actually this is really sympathetic. Try to just respond to it.” And so, I sold the rewrite request. And after I’d done that, I felt like…I’ve learned that beyond my own revision processes, I also will work with an editor. And the editor that I want to work with is an editor who is hands-on. I love that. I love the back and forth. I love the dialogue. I love working with editors who are not the my-way-or-the-highway type of editor because that that cannot work for me. But I like—I love—working with editors who are collaborative, who want to make the manuscript the best it can be, who can give feedback, who are invested in the work. And I just hope that going forward in my career, I will work with other editors and/or the same editors, because I love my editors, who are hands-on.
Well, the novella will be out when this airs. It’s about to come out as we’re recording it. But you’ve had some pretty good reviews already, so it looks like…are you happy with the response you’re seeing from some of those reviewers?
I am so happy, I am just beyond thrilled with the response that I’ve been getting on the novella. I have gotten a starred review from Publishers Weekly. I’ve gotten a starred review from the Library Journal. I got one from Forward Literary, also a starred review, which is for indie titles. I’ve gotten a lot of advance praise. And I am just so…I mean, how can you not be happy with such a response? I did not anticipate that it would be so positive. I’m thrilled. I also know that some people, from the reviews I’ve seen here and there, I feel that some people felt that my language was too lyrical and that kind of was not their thing. And that’s OK. I am a very firm believer that not every book is for every reader. And the beautiful thing about science fiction, fantasy, and horror is that there is room for a variety of styles and approaches. And if not every reader is going to embrace it, that’s just fine. I just was most concerned about doing justice to my community.
So, I wanted the work to speak first and foremost to the experience of trans people and queer people and people who have maybe lived long lives and struggled with coming out, or lived long lives and struggled with regret. So, I’ve had some sensitivity readers and beta readers and alpha readers from the community who’ve read the book and have given me their comments, and they all felt that the book is sensitive. So, that’s what was super important to me. And it’s as important as those starred reviews for me because I want to do justice to my people and I want to uplift my people. I actually want to uplift everybody because everybody deserves an experience of hope that’s coming out of some kind of personal darkness. I think that’s a beautiful thing, and that’s what I kind of try to achieve with this book. But it’s OK that there’s no universal adoration. I do not want that. I do not expect that. But I’m thrilled with the response, and I’m just hoping that people who need this book will find it.
I would say I never expect universal adulation. I wouldn’t say I don’t want universal adulation.
Hey, if it comes, it comes. But I don’t think it’s a thing I strive for. You can’t please everyone. You just can’t. People are so different.
Yeah, people are very different. One thing about the podcast here, you find out from talking to, you know, so many different writers, is how different everybody’s approach is to the craft. And that kind of brings me to my big philosophical question at the end, which you maybe kind of answered along the way a bit. But as I mentioned off the top, when we were setting this up, that question is, why do you do this? Why do you write? Why do you write this stuff? Why do you think any of us do, for that matter? What is it that makes us tell these stories?
OK. So, I don’t know. And I wish I did, but I think if I if I knew that would make me maybe not as human as I am for me personally. I just don’t feel that this…why are humans, some humans compelled to creativity, is a question about God, the universe, existence, and other things. But I often feel, I often think about the metaphor of the pearl for myself. And the metaphor of the pearl is that the pearl, you know, a mollusk exists with no problem up until a grain of sand lands, and you begin working around this grain of sand and wrapping it and wrapping it and wrapping it, and it feels really painful, and you don’t know why you’re doing it. Then, in the end, you hopefully created the pearl and not a pile of shit—so sorry, pardon me. So, for me, the process of a grain of sand has landed, and now we’re working around it. That’s the metaphor that I’m working with. Not a lot of… don’t know if everybody’s like this, but that’s what it is like for me. Something is bothering me that cannot be expressed through nonfiction, that cannot be expressed through not writing, and that something needs to be expressed. And that’s why I’m writing.
And what are you working on now?
So, I’m working on the few Birdverse longer pieces. I’m working on revising a novel that I’ve been working on for a long time that’s about revolution and linguistics, also set in Birdverse. There’s one other thing that I’m working on in Birdverse, which is a novella about a character about whom I also…who is a side character in some of my other works that I’ve known about for a long time, who needs to save her people from disaster and is not really managing to save her people from disaster. It is suddenly very, very current. It wasn’t as current as when I was starting it. So, that’s what I’m working on. And then I’m also working on a science fiction novel which is called, in my head, it’s called Space Putin because it is about Putin in space, or not Putin, but somebody who is like Putin maybe a little bit.
I suspect that title will change!
It’s not going to be the title. And hopefully, hopefully Putin is not going to get, the real Putin, is not going to get involved. But I am a big fan of the Brothers Strugatsky, who are Russian science fiction writers that were fundamental for most Russian-speaking people who write science fiction. Also, people in general, awesome writers. And so, I’ve been doing a long reread of Strugatsky work for a while now, and I decided to write a section novel. It’s about two people, from kind of different factions who…and one of them is a clone of a clone of a clone of a clone of somebody who is very important in the revolution and must be now on the run from space Putin. So, it’s kind of an adventure, but also has these themes and thoughts about the Soviet Union that I have and how it collapsed and other things.
Well, I’m going to remember Space Putin now, that’s for sure.
It is catchy, isn’t it?
It is, it is. And where can people find you online?
So, I am on Twitter a little bit too much as RB_Lemberg, and then I have a Patreon, which is RBLembergwithout the underscore, just patreon.com/RBLemberg.
And I post a lot of things that I don’t want to publish, or I don’t get published, I publish on Patreon, which includes fiction, poetry, drawings, and other things. And I also have a website, rblemberg.net, where you can I can follow me. I am not on Facebook, I don’t like Facebook, not really. I mean, I’m kind of there, but I’m not there really. And I’m a little bit on Instagram, but those, those are not good outlets. I think I’m mainly on Twitter and on Patreon in those days.
I talk a lot of authors who are on Instagram, but I hardly ever do anything on Instagram. It’s a hard one to get a handle on for me.
I post flowers. So, if people want flowers they can go.
Cat pictures. Cat pictures are always good. Well, thanks so much for being on The Worldshapers. I enjoyed that, I hope you did, too.
Yes, I did. Thank you so much for your time and thank you for such great questions. I really enjoyed the conversation.