Q&A with Wendy Nikel

In our January/February issue [on sale now], Wendy Nikel takes us up to Mars, and then up further—to view the planet’s surface from balloons. Read on to learn Wendy’s thoughts on space exploration, the value of history, and how “Around a World in Ninety-Six Hours” both parallels and differs from “Around the World in Eighty Days.”


Analog Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

WN: Before writing “Around a World in Ninety-Six Hours,” I’d read an article about exploration of the planet Venus and how some think that the best way to study it would be from manned balloons. The idea was so interesting to me that before I knew it, I’d fallen down a research rabbit hole and a story had begun to take shape.


AE: How did this story germinate?

WN: One of the things that interested me about exploring Venus from manned balloons was how different that would look from exploring a planet like Mars, where we might be able to set up a research base on the surface and travel across the terrain using vehicles like the rover. Astronauts studying on a research balloon would have to go through different training and would face different struggles than on other planets. In this story, I wanted to highlight some of those differences—and what better avenue to present those than with a sibling rivalry?


AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?

WN: The title is, of course, a play on the story, “Around the World in Eighty Days.” I think Jules Verne would have loved the idea of futuristic scientists exploring other planets in balloons, and just like in Verne’s classic story, the characters in mine are trying to win a bet about how quickly they can circle the planet.


AE: What is your history with Analog?

WN: This is my second story published in Analog—the first being a flash story, “12:20 Bus from the Basics,” in the May/Jun 2019 issue (the one with that awesome dinosaur on the cover). I’m excited to have something a bit longer—with a bit more meat on its bones—in this issue, and am particularly excited to be part of Analog‘s 90th year celebration!


AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?

WN: One of the themes I used in this story, which I often find myself returning to, is the value of history and the importance of learning about the past. We’re at a unique point in time, where so much information has been digitized and is available at the push of a button. While the modern advances of the present-day offer up new problems and challenges, they also provide opportunities to look even deeper into the past, to explore how people who came before us have dealt with similar struggles.


AE: What is your process?

WN: I usually begin writing short stories with a concept that sounds exciting to me, which I’d like to learn more about. From there, I dig into my research and brainstorming to figure out what conflicts and roadblocks my characters may face in that situation. I tend to work pretty hard on the opening lines, since that sets the tone for the rest of the story, and after that, I sit down and write, usually taking a break partway through to figure out how the characters are going to get out of whatever trouble I’ve gotten them into.


“While the modern advances of the present-day offer up new problems and challenges, they also provide opportunities to look even deeper into the past, to explore how people who came before us have dealt with similar struggles.”


AE: What inspired you to start writing?

WN: I’ve always enjoyed working on creative projects—photography, scrapbooking, crafts, etc.—but after my second child was born, I found it difficult to find the time to pursue those projects. It felt like as soon as I dragged all the materials out of storage, the kids had woken up from their naps again and I had to tuck them all away again. I needed a creative outlet that I could pick up on the fly, that required minimal materials, and that I could work on no matter what time of day or night I happened to be awake and restless. I’d enjoyed writing when I was in elementary school, but I hadn’t done any creative writing for some time. Our local library was having a short story contest, and I figured I might as well give it a try. I didn’t win, but now, years later, I’m glad I stuck with it anyway.


AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

WN: In October, the final book of my Place in Time novella series, The Causality Loop, was published by World Weaver Press. I’ve had people ask me about when there would be audiobooks available for the series, and I’m happy to say that I’m working with a narrator/producer right now to get the first book, The Continuum, available on Audible in early 2020.


AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?

WN: There’s a lot of space exploration that I’d love to see happen in my lifetime. From the moon to Mars to Venus and beyond, I’m fascinated with the idea of being able to explore these other worlds and learn more about them through our study and research. There are so many things out there that are still strange and mysterious, and I’m looking forward to seeing how our understanding of the universe grows and changes as we’re able to see more of it up close.


AE: What are you reading right now?

WN: I’m always finding new short stories to read, but as far as longer works, just finished reading Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, and next up on my Kindle are “Retaking Elysium” by Darusha Wehm, Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien, and “Brain Freeze” by Kelly Stewart. I’m also re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to my kiddos, and I just picked up a nonfiction book about the whaler Essex disaster.


AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

WN: I generally post short story releases and news items on facebook.com/wendynikel or you can sign up for my monthly newsletter on my website at wendynikel.com.

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Analog, Nature: Futures, Podcastle, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella series, beginning with The Continuum, is available from World Weaver Press. For more info, visit wendynikel.com.

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