Author, artist, and aerospace technical designer Harry Lang wears many hats. In our newest Q&A he discusses these a bit along with some background on his story “Off-Road” in our current issue on sale now.
Analog Editors: How did “Off-Road” germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
Harry Lang: There was no flash of lightning. I wanted a story about a regular Joe on Mars, somebody who wasn’t a science specialist or organizational apparatchik but who was necessary for an expanding human presence. Food, transportation and a more or less independent economy are all pretty basic so I thought truckers would be a good fit.
AE: Is this piece part of a greater universe of stories?
HL: It is. I have a number of discrete universes going. Off-Road takes place in my “best shot at predicting how things might actually go in space” setting. These stories center around work-a-day protagonists in established planetary settlements. Engineers, pilots, mechanics, etc. Scientists are usually tangential if they appear at all.
AE: What made you think of Analog for this story?
HL: The story was a finalist in the Jim Baen Memorial Contest. I’m still new so that was a real confidence builder. I was further encouraged when a writer friend said I should have no trouble selling it. Obviously, Analog is a Holy Grail for new writers. It also seemed to be the sweet spot for this story so I figured I’d submit and hope for the best.
AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
HL: Too many to catalog here. I tend not to stray too far from the old-school writers I grew up with because they asked the kind of basic questions that still interest me most. What will the world be like a hundred years from now? What’s it like to live on a planet with two suns? That kind of stuff.
I also have a weakness for writers like David R. Bunch and Cordwainer Smith. Reading them is like learning a foreign language and their bizarre, astute commentary remains timely.
Last but not least, nothing beats the staying power of a good dystopia. The longer we live with the internet the more I appreciate The Machine Stops.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
HL: I try to keep a number of projects going so there is always something to pull me in. Sometimes, what presents as writer’s block is really exhaustion so it’s appropriate to walk away. Other times, it pays to power through it. Off-Road is only my second professional sale so I haven’t been up against deadlines yet. I don’t know what that’ll do to me.
AE: How did you break into writing?
HL: I’ve always written stories and they’ve always been in the speculative realm. After graduating high school I’d submit now and then, with no real goal or focus and not much of an idea about learning the craft of writing.
In 2005 I sent a story to Bewildering Stories. It was accepted. I liked that. Bewildering turned out to be a terrific, supportive community of writers and editors. Managing Editor Don Webb is engaged and not stingy with useful observations. I learned a lot, got some confidence and made some good friends.
Eventually, I started submitting to Writers of the Future. I scored with My Name is Angela in 2012. That inspired me to get serious.
AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
HL: That’s kind of a trick question. I’d like to see interstellar exploration and colonization, preferably by means of faster than light travel but that clearly won’t be happening in my lifetime. I’ll settle for a permanent presence on Mars.
AE: What are you reading right now?
HL: The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” and Other Nautical Adventures, William Hope Hodgson anthology.
AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?
HL: I have a BFA in Painting, which is about as far from a scientific background as you can get. My orientation is more toward humanities than hard science and technology. So, not having a scientific background probably does impact my fiction. I have a pretty good 10,000-foot enthusiast’s view of general science and know where to go for answers when needed but I don’t necessarily think like a scientist.
AE: What careers have you had and how do they affect your writing?
HL: The only career I’ve had is as a designer, first in power transmission and protection, now in aerospace. That contrasts with my non-scientific background but its amazing how hunger can inspire us. I’ve also loaded trucks, taught art, washed dishes and worked for a Christian missions organization. I have a base of work experience to draw from which is broad, though not always deep. Anything that expands your vocabulary or adds color, depth or the ring of experience is indispensable to a writer, regardless of genre.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?