Q&A with Audrey Ference

Though a seasoned nonfiction writer, Audrey Ference makes her fiction debut in our July/August pages with “Reassembly” [on sale now]! Read below for Audrey’s thoughts on “throwing your ten minutes onto the pile,” and on capitalism and the modern workplace and the role those things have to play in her work. We can’t wait to see what other stories are brewing in Audrey’s brain!

Analog Editor: What is the story behind “Reassembly”?

AF: This idea came out of when I started working for a startup a few years ago. I had been freelancing for a few years, taking care of my young kids, and then suddenly I was working with a bunch of people who were very young and smart and ambitious and full of energy. And instead of me at home sweating in front of my crumb-covered computer, I was surrounded by cold brew kegs and buzzwords and people wearing company-branded T-shirts on purpose.

I am definitely not the main character, and the people I work with are definitely not the people in the story (my coworkers are truly wonderful people), but that feeling of being out of place was something I wanted to capture. The feeling of being kind of old and grimy and spaceworn, surrounded by sleek furniture and aesthetically pleasing electronics.

AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

AF: So yeah, I was trying to get to this feeling of out-of-place-ness, and then I had the idea of the giant logo blocks in the sky, and I slowly ground my way toward the rest of it. The structure of it took me by surprise as I was working my way through the plot. I thought I was going to have to get into a lot of specifics about the intrigue happening in the logo blocks, and instead I realized no, it can be as simple as just getting Edie what she wants. I liked that the arc of the story kind of echoed the flight that went wrong: sudden swoop around, then outta there. 

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?

AF: As a kid, I was always drawn to stories that were funny, like Douglas Adams and Stephen King. Then when I read George Saunders for the first time I was like: yes. Funny AND kind AND really interesting ideas? Sign me up. I wish that my writing was funnier! More recent faves are N.K. Jemison’s Broken Earth trilogy, Neon Yang’s Tensorate series, Fonda Lee’s Greenbone Saga, and I’ve been working my way through the Vorkosigan Saga. It’s wild how current so many of the ideas in there still feel!

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

AF: Lately I feel like I’ve been writing a lot about capitalism. There’s the Frederic Jameson quote that is always hanging around social media: “Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. We can now revise that and witness the attempt to imagine capitalism by way of imagining the end of the world.”

I think a lot of things have felt apocalyptic lately, and it’s very easy to imagine that either we’ll burn down what we have now and start something better or just run humanity into the ground and that’ll be that. 

But for whatever reason I keep coming back to the idea of a capitalist future that just kind of keeps going from where we are now. Like what if humanity solved just enough of our problems to keep making the same bad choices we’ve been making the last hundred years. What happens if we never learn anything but just spool out tech bro utopia indefinitely? What would the regular people in that world be like? I like to write about characters inside systems that they don’t even fully realize are systems, and how those systems mold them into shapes.

Ten minutes every couple of days? Great, that adds up to something. Don’t listen to the people who say you have to write every day or wake up at four a.m. or make some kind of grand gesture to write things that are meaningful, even if only to you.

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

AF: It’s a cliché but pomodoro. If you promise yourself you’ll do one pomodoro, it’s a win-win. If you spend your twenty-five minutes slugging through garbage, well, you did it and you’re free and you can stop feeling that “I didn’t write today” guilt. And if you find a groove, even better. 

AE: How did you break into writing?

AF: You’re looking at it, baby! This is my first published fiction. Thank you, Analog!

AE: What inspired you to start writing?

AF: I have been writing various things since I was in college, and I used to write essays and blog posts and an advice column and stuff like that, but I have also always been writing fiction. But I am not very good at it! It has taken years of smashing my head into the same wall to get anywhere. Sometimes it seems like the secret to being a writer is just being too stubborn to have the common sense to stop doing it.

AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?

AF: I grew up watching Next Generation with my parents, and there’s something about the Star Trek universe that brings me great joy. Or maybe it’s not even the universe itself but the universe of the shows. ST:TNG and DS9 especially seem like someone was like let’s make a space opera but make it character-driven and frequently conflict-free. I am super drawn to worlds where the stakes are so low you have to work to make the inherently boring interesting. 

AE: What careers have you had and how do they affect your writing?

AF: I’ve had many random jobs, often several at a time. I’ve worked in nonprofit fundraising (for poetry!), I was a bouncer on a Park Service tour boat, I worked briefly as a PR intern at a speed dating company, I had a night job writing TV trivia, I wrote headlines for clickbait, I’ve had a lot of unpaid or low-paying side gigs writing for the internet, and now I write for an app. 

Having a bunch of different jobs and seeing the way different workplaces are structured (especially if you’re just a temp, intern, or freelancer) really helps you see how humans organize and define themselves. There’s something about work hierarchies and norms that is really fascinating to me. I like to watch how different kinds of people make space for themselves.

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?

AF: It’s absurd for me to answer this because I am so extremely unpublished as to not even qualify as “up and coming,” but, you know, I’m in my forties, I’m pretty old to be just getting started, and I’m a mom. I’ve always been trying to jam writing into the cracks between work and life obligations. And I really believe that if you just keep plugging along, giving the time you have to give, you will eventually write things that you like and are proud of. Ten minutes every couple of days? Great, that adds up to something. Don’t listen to the people who say you have to write every day or wake up at four a.m. or make some kind of grand gesture to write things that are meaningful, even if only to you. Keep throwing your ten minutes onto the pile and watch it grow.

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

AF: I’m on twitter @audreyference or just in general at audreyference.com

Audrey Ference is a writer living in Austin, TX. This is her first ever published fiction, though her nonfiction has appeared in Slate, Salon, Teen Vogue, and the Toast (RIP). 

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