Larry Hodges visits the blog to chest about the impact of current events on his writing, upcoming projects, and the inspiration for his Probability Zero tale “The Plaything on the Tesseract Wall” on sale in our current issue.
Analog Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
LH: I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of interactions between us and a 4-D world. I’ve sold a few other stories with this central concept. Writing such a story means spending a lot of time trying to imagine what such interactions would look like from both points of view. Twice I’ve sold stories that featured a 3-D invasion of a 4-D universe—one successful, one notably unsuccessful. I sold another that featured a 4-D invasion of our world through the Oval Office. I also sold a humorous fantasy novel, Sorcerers in Space, that featured a motley crew of sorcerers, which included a 2-D one.
AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
LH: It came to me while watching a certain political leader disparaging others as if they were worthless and without feelings, and it got me to thinking about this on a higher scale. What would a 4-D being think of a 3-D being such as us? Would they assume we were non-sentient and no more than playthings for their amusement? I spent some time in a lounge chair jotting down ideas and researching them afterwards, ranging from the extra dimension I added to their names, how to describe a pouty 4-D child, how they would look like if they reached into our 3-D world, and the various geometric terms used. The one thing that didn’t hit me until later was the ending. Initially I had Pedra—or rather:
have a burst of conscience at the end and see the error of her ways. Then I thought, why not bring in a 5-D being? It gave it the perfect ending.
AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
LH: They impact them quite a bit. Over the past year I’ve written a whole slew of stories that feature presidents, many satirizing our current one, such as Captain Exasperation Woman Meets President Trump. My best novel is probably Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, which covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, where the world has adopted the American two-party system, and features a third-party moderate challenge and an incredulous alien ambassador that observes the election. It’s a drama that satirizes American politics.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
LH: I’ve sold over 90 stories and three novels, and there seem to be three themes or subjects that I come back to a lot. I often feature presidents as major characters, and the moral crises they face—or satires that mock them for their moral failings. I often have stories that center around either the characters Death or the Devil, which are basically good versus evil stories. Plus, of course, I like writing SF stories that involve the interaction between our Universe and 4-D (or sometimes 2-D) universes. I’ve also had blue whales in a number of stories! What I need to write is a story about the president of the 4-D blue whales taking on Death and the Devil!
More specifically regarding themes, many of the stories I write are somewhat morality plays, including “The Plaything on the Tesseract Wall.” The key is to be at least a bit subtle about it. You don’t want to slap the reader over the face with it, yet you want to show the point you are trying to make. Often the best way to make it subtle is to bury it with something really fascinating—like a 4-D being who plays with a 3-D person!
AE: What is your process?
LH: I’m always hearing the phrase “Character is king,” but I tend to rebel against that. Science fiction and fantasy are the genre of ideas, and so I always start with an idea. That absolutely does not mean character isn’t just as important—they aren’t mutually exclusive. But I start with what I consider a fascinating idea, then try to create a story with equally fascinating characters around it. It means a LOT of brainstorming, both on the initial idea and on developing vivid and interesting characters (often focusing on motivation) and a great story. (Occasionally the idea IS the character.)
While brainstorming I jot down, using bullet points in Word, the ideas in the story, the characters, and (with numbering) the sequence of events. I never start without knowing how I plan to end it, though I will often change that.
Then it’s time to write! I usually write the entire first draft in one sitting, though not always. Since I know what I plan to write, I can write straight through, being creative as possible as I go through it in developing the characters, settings, and ideas. When I finish the draft I usually have bulleted notes at the start with a number of things I want to get back to. So I go back and add those elements, one by one.
Then I read the story on my computer, continuously making changes, trying to spice up everything. Here’s where I really focus on making sure the characters and settings are memorable and vivid. I often go through the story five to six times like this. When I’m satisfied the story is ready, I put it aside for one to four weeks, so I can look at it with a fresh look. Then I read it on my computer one more time, making more changes. At this stage, I often have brainstorms on how to bring the story to a higher level. If I end up doing a lot of rewriting here, I’ll put it aside for another few days or a week. Finally, when I’m satisfied with it, I’ll put it aside until I’m ready for final proofing.
But here’s the fun part, where I perhaps differ from many writers. Because I so often put stories aside, I end up working on multiple stories at the same time. Every couple of months I’ll finalize perhaps five to six stories, and then I’ll print them all out together, single-spaced, and take them to a local restaurant—and spend the afternoon eating pizza, drinking Mountain Dew, and proofing them. Then I input the changes, and I’m done. (Sometimes at this late stage I’ll have a brainstorm and do more rewriting or additions to a piece, and then I’ll have to print it out for another proofing. More pizza and Mountain Dew!)
AE: How do you deal with writer’s block?
LH: For me, writer’s block means that I’m not sure about how to do something in a story, or where I’m trying to get to, i.e. the ending. When that happens, I don’t even try to write anything until I figure out how to do what’s needed or where I’m trying to get to. When I have that, I never have writer’s block. I’ve also had a few times where I had writer’s block for a very simple reason—the story just didn’t seem as interesting as I thought it would be. Then I put it aside until I figure out how to make it interesting—or I just forget about it and move on to the next story.
AE: How did you break into writing?
LH: I’m sure I’m the only science fiction writer who got started by writing about the Olympic sport of table tennis! I was a top player and won a number of national titles. Then I became a top coach, and then I began writing about the sport, including numerous coaching articles and books. (I have eight books, over 1,600 published articles, and over 1,800 blog entries on table tennis.) But I was also a voracious science fiction reader, and so it was inevitable that I’d combine the two and start writing science fiction.
However, the biggest influence on my SF writing was the six-week Odyssey Writing Workshop, which is where everything began to come together—though it took years of writing, Writing, WRITING for it to really come together. Getting into Analog has always been a goal of mine, and here it is!
AE: What inspired you to start writing?
LH: That’s sort of like asking a person why they sneeze. Hold in a sneeze and your head might explode. Once I get an idea in my head, I have to write about it or my head will explode.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
LH: I recently finalized a batch of new short stories. I also have three that were critiqued at “The Never-Ending Odyssey,” an annual nine-day gathering of graduates of the Odyssey Science Fiction & Fantasy Writing Workshop. Once I’m done with those, I plan to start a new novel. The frustrating thing is I have at least ten novels outlined. But I’m leaning toward a SF one that features the first ten U.S. presidents, which would be an expansion of a story I sold a while back, “Tyler’s Ten.”
AE: What are you reading right now?
LH: I’ve read all the novels by Robert J. Sawyer, including his last one, Quantum Night (which brilliantly predicted what is taking place in the U.S. right now!) and am looking forward to his next one, The Oppenheimer Alternative. I made it a goal last year to read all the science fiction novels by Mike Resnick—about 80—and I’m 3/4 there. I just finished The Dark Lady and am about to get into his Lucifer Jones series. My favorite of his so far is probably Ivory, which covers the events surrounding the massive tusks from a Kilimanjaro elephant over the course of thousands of years. I also like the heist Deadender trilogy that starts with The Fortress in Orion.
AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?
LH: I have a bachelor’s in math, along with minors in chemistry and computer science. This helps in many of my stories—not just the math and science background, but the type of thinking that goes with it. I come from a family of scientists—my dad was an entomologist, my brother’s a physicist. The math background helped in researching the terms and ideas used in “The Plaything on the Tesseract Wall.”
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
LH: Friend me on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/larry.hodges.5, or just put in my name in a Facebook search and it’ll come up—I’m the one with lots of science fiction and table tennis friends, my two worlds. Or visit me at www.larryhodges.com.