Can you tell us about the origins of this story?
I spent one summer in college doing an archaeological dig at a colonial site in Virginia as part of my minor in Anthropology. The surface of the site was littered with artifacts from the present and recent past—beer bottles and assorted other debris. Scraping away the dirt revealed the foundation of a building long gone, bits of broken pottery and tiny glass beads. Archaeology, to me, has always felt a bit like digging backwards through time, and I’ve been wanting to write a story about it for a long time.
I really liked how the interspersed parts change in their assumed meaning over the course of the story, but that seems like a difficult feat to pull off. While writing, did you run into any snags, with those or with anything else?
The interspersed bits changed quite a bit as I wrote the story. I didn’t figure out what they needed to be until I was nearly at the end, which is pretty typical for my process. But the most challenging thing about the story was that I was pushing myself to include more characters—if I’m not paying attention I tend to have only a single character wandering around the world alone. In this story, I wanted to show a variety of characters with different relationships to the protagonist—so I gave Saki a son, a student, some colleagues, and a lifelove.
I know you write at a lot of different story lengths. Do you have a particular preference nowadays, and has that changed any over time?
I have less of a preference than I used to. For a long time, my natural length was flash, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to write things longer—adding threads, having more characters, sometimes playing with the structure to force myself to draw out the story more.
The two projects I’m currently working on are relatively longer lengths—I’m currently finishing up a trio of inter-related short stories (which in some ways is like a novelette in three parts), and when that’s done I have a novella that I drafted last year and need to go back and revise.
Is there anything special about this story that you want readers to know?
This story draws from bits and pieces of inspiration across a long period of time—it started from that archaeological dig in 1999; the iridescent blue bases of the alien artifacts were inspired by a beetle of that color that I saw on a trip to Japan in 2007; the campus quad came from my graduate school days at University of Washington. Other elements of the story had more recent inspirations. I always find it interesting the different images and moments that stick in my brain over time and get mashed together into stories—sometimes it makes a lot of sense, but other times it can feel very random!
For the readers who loved this story, what should they look for of yours next?
I have a couple stories that I’d recommend to people who loved this one and want to read more of my work. The first is my Clarkesworld story “Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion,” which, like this story, features weird aliens and an interesting structure. For readers who want a time travel love story, I have a Lightspeed story from a few years back called “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Love, Death” (lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/rock-paper-scissors-love-death).
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