“Exogamy” tells a complete story in only five pages. Did you plan on using so few words when you started writing it?
The story was the result of a query from Ellen Datlow, then fiction editor at Omni magazine of fond memory, to write a short short story about the war between the sexes. It was published along with brief stories by Ursula Le Guin and Thomas M. Disch. So the remit included brevity.
It seemed that the bond between the characters was strengthened with each sentence. How did you distill those developing emotions into such a small package?
How I did it lies in what I did. It’s not a mystery, really—you’ve distilled it in your first sentence. To know more than that, you just examine the details. Each one takes a step from fear and loathing to acceptance and dependence.
Are there any advantages of telling a love story using speculative elements?
The interest for me was to tell a sort of SF story (it was intended for Omni, after all) that would also embody or entail a romance, a quest story. Of course, most SF stories do entail romances. The tiny SF elements of this story resemble to my mind the SF cast of certain stories from the ’50s or earlier, when SF was the main mode for romance (in the philological or lit-crit sense, certainly not the love-story sense): that is, just enough to flavor it, and announce it as “otherworldly.” As it goes on, those elements drop away, and then so do the fantasy/romance elements, until in the last sentences the story becomes nearly naturalistic or this-worldly, and a human couple drives off into our world. The same movement is in many stories, of course, but I was actually imitating the plan of a wonderful brief novel by Josephine Saxton called The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith. Read it and you’ll see.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
Here’s the plan: Read very many standard SF and SF/fantasy novels, so many that you can write one straight off in a quasi-trance state. There will always be a market for these, and if they fit the template well enough, they don’t have to be terribly good in any other way; write many many and you may become a good writer tout court, and if you don’t, you will still likely get published and loved (though not rich). Just kidding. Read great work in all genres and languages; read powerful second-rank work ditto, which will teach you the standard tricks more clearly; dream; think; lastly write, keeping in mind that stories are made out of words and sentences and not out of visions and longings.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I read this first as “what can we expect from the future” and was about to demur, then read it right. I am writing a novel that will not be finished for some time, and if I talk about it and arouse interest in it, that interest will wither away by the time it appears, and it will seem old-hat when newborn.