Q&A with Matt McHugh

Matt McHugh’s “No Stranger to Native Shores” [in our November/December issue, on sale now!] attempts to recreate the teenage thrill of first reading particular works by Heinlein, Asimov, Le Guin, and Niven & Pournelle. Read on to discover which particular works, glimpse what’s next for Matt, and learn from the paraphrased wisdom of Stephen King and Sweeney Todd.

Analog Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

MM: I think everything I write is an attempt to recreate the thrill of something I read when discovering sci-fi as a teenager. The main influences on this story are: Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Asimov’s “The Ugly Little Boy,” and Niven/Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye. I shamelessly lifted a few bits from Ursula Le Guin, as well.

AE: Is this piece part of a greater universe of stories?

MM: I’m continuing the story in a novel. It’s set in a universe that is my take on a human colonial empire with FTL travel. I so want such a thing to exist—improbable as it may be—and try to inject some notes of plausibility.

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?

MM: Current events are just the latest versions of our perpetual problems. Sci-fi lets you take familiar situations, cast them into an alien context, and see them with a fresh eye.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

MM: Beyond continuing this story, I’m working on a satirical novel about a celebrity tech mogul, à la Jobs/Bezos/Musk et al. Edmund Darhenny. Inventor of the battery-less cellphone. Principal owner of the global wireless power grid. Patent holder on the broadcast shortwave treatment for erectile dysfunction. Amateur astronaut. Professional jazz didgeridooist. Exclusive forearm model for the 2009-2012 Hanmarten-Steffrith smartwatch catalog. Activist. Philanthropist. Creator. Destroyer.

AE: What is the weirdest research rabbit-hole that working on a story has led you down?

MM: I don’t know if it’s weird, but I am endlessly fascinated with Google Translate. I can spend hours plugging in phrases and feeling like I almost understand another language.

[Academic publishing has] made me think of science as a long process subject to human limitations rather than a series of breakthroughs. Only in the movies does someone working in a lab discover something then call a press conference.

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

MM: To paraphrase Stephen King: Amateurs wait for inspiration while professionals get up and go to work. I like to sit around and try to decide which I am.

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

MM”: Power. Who has it and why? How did they acquire it? How do they preserve it? What happens when different versions of it collide? To paraphrase Sweeny Todd: The history of the world, my beau, is who’s on top and who’s down below.

AE: What are you reading right now?

MM: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. Working my way through the Stainless Steel Rat books.

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

MM: I’ve spent my professional career in academic publishing. It’s made me think of science as a long process subject to human limitations rather than a series of breakthroughs. Only in the movies does someone working in a lab discover something then call a press conference.

AE: What is your process?

MM: First, I think about what interests me. Then I think about how to make that interesting to other people. Step 2 is the hard part.

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

MM: My website is mattmchugh.com—check it out if you want to see state-of-the-art HTML design, circa 2002.

Matt McHugh was born in suburban Pennsylvania, attended LaSalle University in Philadelphia, and after a few years as a Manhattanite, calls New Jersey home. His short fiction has appeared in The First Line, New Reader Magazine, and Distant Shores, and received two Pushcart nominations. His novelette “Radioland” was named among the Indie Stars of 2015 by Publisher’s Weekly and in 2021, PARSEC selected “Jennifer Gives Her Heart to Radioland” for first place in their annual story contest. ”Burners” won the 2019 Grand Prize in the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award.

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