Sometimes, for some reason, people ask me things about my work and about myself…
On Scott Edelman’s fab podcast “Eating the Fantastic,” he interviews science fiction & fantasy & horror writers over an awesome meal… and I’m the guest on the latest issue, out now!! It was the first vegetarian episode, recorded at Baltimore’s One World Cafe during the Baltimore Book Festival.
Here’s what Scott has to say about the episode:
My guest who stole away from the Inner Harbor to join me this episode is Sam J. Miller, a writer who’s been nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Awards, and who won the Shirley Jackson Award for his short story “57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides.” And who last shared a meal with me during the 2015 Nebula Awards weekend at Alinea, considered to be one of the Top 10 restaurants in the world. His debut novel, The Art of Starving, will appear from HarperCollins in 2017.
We discussed the value of community within the science fiction field, the transformative piece of advice he received from Ted Chiang while attending the Clarion Writers Workshop, how one deals with reviews that are more politically than artistically motivated, the way 9/11 changed horror movies, the importance of the life and works of the great Thomas M. Disch, and more.
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Over at Inverse, Ryan Britt asks the question: what is the future of science fiction in Trump’s America? And he was good enough to ask my opinion, and to give me the last word in his article!
The short version: the future looks terrifying, for so many of the communities who Trump and his allies have targeted, and we’re going to need outlandish stories even more in the outlandish times ahead.
I gave Ryan more to work with than he was able to include in the finished article, but here’s the full quote:
“Trump’s election hasn’t told us anything we didn’t already know. For many of the most important and powerful voices in the genre, now as in the past, profound racism and misogyny and xenophobia and homophobia are far too real already. Think of The Handmaid’s Tale, about a far-right anti-woman Christian fundamentalist takeover of the US government, or Octavia Butler’s Parable books – a trilogy that she couldn’t complete because it was too traumatic to dig any deeper into a dystopia that Reagan’s America had come to resemble far too closely. Today, writers like Alyssa Wong and N.K. Jemisin and Usman Tanveer Malik and many others are singing terrifying brilliant songs of our not-so-brave not-so-new world of drone bombings, hate crimes, and genocide.
“What will change, I think, is how people respond to science fiction. The future of science fiction in Trump’s America is that people will need it more. As the world grows darker and stranger, we will need dark and strange stories. That has always been a function of the genre. To help us hope and imagine better worlds and wondrous technologies, yes, but also to help us grieve, and understand, and grow stronger, and fight back.”
I was invited to participate in the “My Writing Process Blog Tour” by Carmen Maria Machado, who was invited by Sofia Samatar (@SofiaSamatar), who was invited by Daniel José Older (@djolder). I in turn tagged my astonishingly-talented brother-by-another-mother David Edison, who will follow me shortly…
1) What are you working on?
Right now I’m juggling several short stories in various states of unfinishedness (a story is never finished until it’s published), as well as doing a merciless edit of my YA SFF novel “Stealing Normal,” which is causing me profound anxiety and self-doubt. Which may be a good thing? It hurts, so that probably means it’s good for me.
2) How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
I don’t know if there’s anything that makes my work completely unique – there’s so much astonishing stuff happening now in science fiction and fantasy, with so many great writers doing things I hugely admire. The way Ted Chiang tears your heart out with such beautiful, real human relationships (and oh yeah there’s a shit ton of rigorous science and knowledge to ground it), the way Ken Liu engages history. Karen Joy Fowler, Kelly Link, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Saladin Ahmed, Paolo Bacigalupi, and a hundred other terrific writers excite me. I think what makes my work ‘my work’ is my own particular set of fascinations, the subjects I am drawn to – things like privilege and oppression and resistance and history; things like how our relationships with other people are impacted by the society we live in. As a community organizer, as someone who believes that people have more power when they work together, I often find myself creating magic systems or tech that depend upon collaboration, or become stronger the more people are connected – it’s why Octavia Butler’s “Mind of My Mind” is probably my favorite SF novel. Some people use SFF to imagine better worlds, and that’s super valuable, but for me it’s more about using the genre toolkit as a lens on what’s wrong (and what’s wonderful) (but mostly wrong) with the world we have.
3) Why do you write what you do?
Christ, I don’t know. Because life is full of horror and suffering and loss and sadness, and fiction can help us make sense of it? Because we’re all going to die? Because when I was in elementary school I was bad at sports and had no friends and so I lied to people about having seen horror movies I wasn’t in fact allowed to see, and then kids wanted to talk to me so I would narrate the plots of these movies, which of course were totally made up, or based only on the poster, or the description on the back of the box at the video store, so telling elaborate lies about monsters and bloodshed became a social survival mechanism? Also I love James Baldwin on the subject: “Most of us, no matter what we say, are walking in the dark, whistling in the dark. Nobody knows what is going to happen to him from one moment to the next, or how one will bear it. This is irreducible. And it’s true of everybody. Now, it is true that the nature of society is to create, among its citizens, an illusion of safety; but it is also absolutely true that the safety is always necessarily an illusion. Artists are here to disturb the peace.”
4) How does your writing process work?
At any given moment I have approximately one gajillion ideas bouncing around in my head – characters, situations, titles, speculative elements, weird shit that really happened, news stories, YouTube videos, etc. I tend to let that stuff percolate for a while, encouraging story ideas to bounce off each other, adding stuff to a spreadsheet (YES I HAVE A SPREADSHEET OF STORY IDEAS DON’T JUDGE ME). Usually a story doesn’t really start rolling for me until a couple separate ideas come together (“what if that boy trying to find his vanished best friend were a survivor of that Soviet human experimentation you read about?”) and then I can start to put flesh on the bones. Reading helps, and watching television and movies – seeing new exciting ways to tell stories, or noting tropes or tricks that have an emotional impact on me, often provides the “ah-ha!” moment that can solve a writing puzzle I’ve been stumped by. As for when I write – early mornings, weekends, wherever I can steal an hour or two. Heavily impacted by my day job demands and whatever mountain of television shows my husband and I are currently digging ourselves out from under.