Science Fiction & Fantasy

Beren & Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien

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Author Spotlight: Robert Reed

In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Robert Reed to tell us a bit about the background of his story for Lightspeed, “Woman Leaves Room.”

What inspired you to write “Woman Leaves Room?” What was the process like?

Robert ReedMemory is suspect, but I did suffer the image of a woman leaving a room and then not returning for a great long while. I think I was watching TV. Maybe something on the screen triggered the image—a similar scene or whatnot. I don’t know and don’t care. I think up images all the time, and, like virtual particles, most of them vanish without notice. This one didn’t. Not long after, I made a file called “Woman Leaves Room” and set it aside. Not long after that, I found myself trying to write in the pre-dawn hours and faced several empty files, and on the spur of the moment, I decided to make the story about files being left alone and eventually lost. I wrote a few paragraphs and set it aside for a few weeks, which is typical, and then I went back to the file and finished it in a few days, without incident or much anguish. At least that’s what I remember, but again, memory is suspect.

Many of the characters in this story have been abandoned by their creators. In fact, the narrator spends most of this story being “lost,” with others unable to locate him or his origins. What do you think this says about humanity, that we let such important things slide away?

I don’t believe people let things slide away. It’s the nature of the universe that everything dissolves into oblivion and by every route possible, but human beings invest a lot of cleverness trying to cling to past events, real or imagined. And because we can’t succeed, we get angry and frustrated and feel guilty. Except the Buddhists, who say, “Fuck that,” and go on inside the moment.

The protagonist doesn’t ever seem to believe others when they tell him how much time has passed. In fact, he doesn’t believe most of what the first two men who visit him say. Why is this?

Only the woman is real to him. That’s the nature of his program. Everything else looks and feels contrived.

On your website you mention that you love to run. Are there any other activities that you enjoy? Do you feel that running helps clear your head, or encourages the creative process?

Running is a joy, yes. And maybe it helps the creative process. The medical literature gives evidence of a profound brain-body relationship. But mostly I run because I learned long ago that if I wanted to flatten out my moods, I needed hard physical effort. Running is best because I genuinely enjoy it and because it takes a lot less time than biking or swimming, and due to some fluke in my body, I seem able to still do it in my mid-fifties.

Other joys: I have ponds and aquariums and hundreds of fish that rise to the surface when I appear. I like to read, although I’m not the voracious indiscriminate reader that I was thirty years ago. Science and apocalyptic science and history are common themes. Right now, I’m enjoying Persian Fire with Darius and the crazy-ass Spartans.

You’re extremely prolific. How on Earth do you come up with so many different things to write about?

Here’s one obvious explanation: I started selling at the beginning of the Computer Age, and I wrote hard every day of the week, selling the occasional titles. Although it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, I seem to have grown more prolific with time, investing less effort and time in my work. I’ve learned to know when the story goes wrong and quit immediately, and I certainly have an easier time selling what I finish. From those clues I think there is an obvious answer. I am not human. I am a piece of software or an alien implant, and my output improves as the Internet grows more sophisticated.

There’s no reason to take that idea seriously, I hope. But still, that popped into my head while thinking about the question. My head is always generating story ideas, and I don’t know why, and I know better than to get in my head’s way.

In an interview with SF Signal, you discussed your fear of time travel. “Woman Leaves Room” deals largely with large jumps in time, resulting in loss for the narrator. Do you think about the passage of time a lot? How does it affect your writing?

I grew up loving dinosaurs and being appalled by the distance between them and a ten year-old boy. Time has always been a vast ocean. Last week is more remote than Alpha Centauri, and I guess that kind of thinking can prey on a soul. Which makes the lost-file scenario into an appealing method of time travel, at least for to serve one small story.

If you could make a file copy of someone—anyone—from the past, present, or future, who would it be and why?

Winston Churchill’s mother, and in particular, while she was a young woman. And no, I’m not going to explain why.

What’s next for you? What are some of the projects you’re working on now?

I always work on stories. That never changes. What I’m working on today will be finished by the time people read this. I intend to sell or at least publish another Marrow novel in 2011. (“At least publish” implies some kind of print-on-demand scenario. I am strongly considering going to the Cory Doctorow model for selling my work.) I’m also doing some consulting work that I’m not free or willing to discuss, except to say that it is fun and maybe important.

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Stacey Friedberg

Stacey Friedberg

Stacey Friedberg is an editorial assistant at Penguin Books for Young Readers. She enjoys reading, writing, and cooking. You can follow her (very infrequent) tweets via @stacabird.