Bud Sparhawk has published over 50 stories in Analog, and has remained a dedicated reader since “dinosaurs ruled the Earth” 71 years ago. Learn more about his process and inspirations below, and read his new story “Simple Pleasures” in our [May/June issue, on sale now!]
Analog Editor: What careers have you had and how do they affect your writing?
Bud Sparhawk: After receiving an undergraduate degree in Mathematics I spent a few years traveling the world as an AF Officer, getting a Masters in Finance, raising three impressive adults who are making their own marks on the world, and as a consultant until retirement, after which I served as SFWA’s CFO.
My life-long sailing hobby has also informed much of my writing as has my appetite for superficially digesting anything smacking of science.
AE: How did “Simple Pleasures” germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly ?
BS: As in most of my published stories I’ve included some fragments of personal background, a few incidents, an overheard conversational fragment or an unforgettable phrase forgotten until triggered by God knows what as appropriate to its place in the narrative—in other words I have no fucking idea of the reasons the words appear. I always rationalize their existence as the result of some deliberate effort, but, in all honesty watching a story’s drafts develop into something readable seems nothing short of magical!
AE: Is this piece part of a greater universe of stories?
BS: “Simple Pleasures” is the third story of a cycle that reflects on my boyhood on the Chesapeake Bay and environs. The settings are those beloved locations I roved before onrushing development and a few destructive hurricanes rearranged the shorelines, destroyed wetlands, and filled in the marsh surrounding Jake’s shack.
The first tale of the cycle appeared as “Jake’s Gift” (Analog May 1993) and presented the idea of using floating islands to improve the Bay’s waters.
I continued the story with “Mary’s Present” (Analog July 1994) to give Jake and Mary more depth and personality.
I first drafted “Simple Pleasures” in 1996 but never bought it to completion because I felt the plot was too facile, too simple and, besides, my interests had shifted elsewhere.
Then, in 2001 I was contacted by an environmentalist who introduced me to a company that was deploying floating islands in Baltimore’s inner harbor) as pilot programs and incidentally help filter the water. I’ve also contacted politicians, developers, and the Coast Guard over the intervening years, which provided the raw materials I needed to stretch a seine of verisimilitude over the basic story’s framework.
AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
BS: The characters and roles scattered across the three stories of the Mary cycle are amalgamations of interesting people inhabiting the Chesapeake Bay region, pets I’ve loved and sadly lost and interesting facts I’ve picked up about the Bay’s flora and fauna. Although there are a few fictitious landmarks their names approximate the actual locations you’ll find on nautical charts.
AE: What is your history with Analog?
BS: I began reading Analog when dinosaurs ruled the Earth (i.e. 1951), subscribed in 1952, and haven’t missed a single month’s issue through that entire period.
I’ve never encountered an issue that failed to catch my interest. But it wasn’t until 1972 that I felt I was writing stories worthy of submitting to Analog. Ben Bova bought my first Analog story (“The Tompkins Battery Case,” Analog August 1976) and, a few months later, “Alba Krystal” (Analog January 1977.) Since 1992 I’ve managed to sell fifty short stories, novelettes, and novellas to Analog’s succession of editors.
AE: What is your process?
BS: My processes are to usually find something interesting and/or obscure I might use in a story, wrap a plot around it, and think up an appropriate setting. This focuses the story’s development but none of these ever survives my first or second drafts. Revision is my worse habit: I generally go through five or six drafts before thinking it’s complete. That said; I have, on occasion, sometimes rewritten parts of an accepted story after I’ve received the galleys!
As in most of my published stories I’ve included some fragments of personal background, a few incidents, an overheard conversational fragment or an unforgettable phrase forgotten until triggered by God knows what as appropriate to its place in the narrative—in other words I have no fucking idea of the reasons the words appear.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
BS: I usually have more story ideas rattling around my brain than I have the time or talent to turn into saleable stories. I don’t usually suffer from Writer’s Block but more a lack of confidence that anything I’ve started will be worth finishing. So yeah, I guess that can be called a block.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
BS: I subscribe to several monthly magazines and avidly consume short story collections when I run across them.
My advice for anyone needing to write is not to deny yourself the pleasures of creating an interesting tale. Despite being frequently disappointed, every failed attempt will move you closer to personal fulfillment and, occasionally, a degree of recognition.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing? (IE: Social media handles, website URL . . .)
BS: Like everyone else in the SFNAL universe I have a web site—Budsparhawk.com—and frequently post a few remarks on Facebook. I also maintain a blog on the misery of being a short story magazine writer in what seems like a novelist’s world.