Suzanne Palmer, 2016 ANLAB award-winner for best novelette, returns with a new story, “The Streaming Man,” in the current issue. She talks writer’s block, Einstein, her dog, and more, in this fascinating Q&A.
Analog Editors: What is the story behind this piece?
Suzanne Palmer: Several years back I had the misfortune of slipping on the ice and breaking my ankle badly enough to require all sorts of metal hardware to repair. (I wrote my previous Analog story, “Detroit Hammersmith,” [September 2016] while wheelchair-bound after that accident.) I joked how it was disappointing that all those metal bits didn’t come with cool bionic-woman-style sound effects. And then I broke my other leg, though much less terribly, and I realized that if each leg made its own sound effect, and you added in all the others parts and pieces I’d broken or torn or sprained over the years, I’d be the world’s worst walking band. Plus, as a linux sysadmin, it’s always bugged me that my body doesn’t have a log file that I can check to figure out what’s going on. Combine the two and voila, inspiration!
AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
SP: Rohm is kind of a sad sack in his own way, and I think we’ve all had moments of wanting to succumb to that sort of self-centered misery—just maybe not that much. Yes is the flip side of that coin, and maybe if Rohm is the personification of the human need to sulk, she’s that of the human drive to find ways to overcome. When they work together, their story comes together too.
AE: What made you think of Analog for this story?
SP: I thought the nitty gritty details of medical implants merging with the unintended artistic and social possibilities was definitely singing an Analog-style duet.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
SP: It seems to me that one of the meta struggles of humankind is the need to be able to envision humanity as a whole without losing sight of—or value for—the individual. Once you no longer see each person for who they are, whether the most influential or the least, whether they are similar or significantly different from how we categorize and identify and value our own selves, it’s easier to see lives lost or taken merely as numbers, to see injustices done to the weak as having no impact on the strong, to see people—as consumers, as products, as collateral damage to some political gain—as nothing more than fungible commodities. While I don’t think this story, or my previous one in Analog, particularly bends toward this theme, the notions of compassion and integrity, and idea of the everyday person, the ‘little guy,’ being heroes or finding hope and justice just by being who they are, where they are, and what they find themselves in the middle of, are big ones for me.
AE: What inspired you to start writing?
SP: My best friend dared me to write a novel. As payback, now I make her read all my first drafts.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
SP: Before I started writing, most of my creative energy went into art. I have a fine arts degree in sculpture (and yes, my parents were about as happy about that as you’d expect), and I paint, draw, build things, plant things, and otherwise am really, incredibly bad at sitting still. When I’m working on a story and I get stuck, it usually means I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere, and if I step back and take a breather I can figure it out. If I can’t, I work on something else, whether it’s a different story or a woodworking project or adding to the stone wall I’m building in my garden (it’s just like Tetris, except when you drop a block it hurts!) so that my brain is being fired up creatively in some other way. Sometimes I just take a nice long walk at night with my dog and look up at the stars. I think the key for me is to keep feeding my brain and my imagination, while not letting myself get obsessively focused on exactly where I’m stuck, so that I’m more open to finding new paths to where I want to take the project when I go looking again with fresh eyes.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
SP: My first novel is going to be coming out with DAW in 2019, and I’m busy working on the sequels. Lots of stuff exploding. You might like it.
AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
SP: Oh, absolutely faster than light travel. Einstein was awesome, but I want him to be wrong about this. I want our opportunities to explore the Universe to be only limited by our imagination.
AE: What are you reading right now?
SP: It’s really sad how behind in my reading I am, but I’m finally almost through Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy, and I’m absolutely loving it. The worldbuilding and characters have such significant pull it’s been difficult to get my head out of it enough to work on my own stories. Sticky-brain books of the very best kind.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
SP: Absolutely. Be persistent. Talk to other writers, because you are not alone. You are only ever really competing with yourself, and as soon as you start feeling comfortable with what you’re doing, it’s time to level up and feel like you’re back at the start all over again. Enjoy the hell out of the ride as much as you can, and when you can’t, go out and look at the stars and remember how extraordinary the Universe is, and you are part of it, and you can be magic too.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
SP: I have been online for a really long time (since 1982ish?) so I’m all about social media, but I see it as exactly that: a social space. I’m on most things as zanzjan, on twitter a lot, on facebook now and then, and I’m a moderator of the SFF room on AbsoluteWrite. I have a (somewhat rudimentary) website at www.zanzjan.net. I don’t tend to be very self-promoting because it feels awkward, but I’ll usually mention when I have something new out, and you can bet I’ll tweet all the gory details about weird stuff my dog ate.