What was the first thing you knew about “The Birth Will Take Place on a Mutually Acceptable Research Vessel,” before you began drafting it?
There’s a line in the story that mentions having a birth plan. When my wife was pregnant with our third child, she did a ton of research and created a birth plan of her own, which her doctor promptly ignored. I was annoyed at how dismissive certain medical professionals were about her questions and concerns, and that emotion helped prompt the story. So I suppose the first thing I knew was that the main character, the mother-to-be of an entirely new form of life, wasn’t just going to have to deal with the physical and emotional implications of being pregnant. She would also have to deal with being marginalized and dismissed by the powers that be.
I love it when characters empower themselves, so that was always the ultimate destination for this story’s protagonist, even before I started writing about her.
Using second person is a bit risky, because the reader might not be able to immerse themselves in a character dissimilar to them, but you made it work with a pregnant woman giving birth to a hybrid/alien baby! Can you talk about what influenced that decision?
You’re right—it is a bit risky! But in this case, two things influenced my decision. First, the story was inspired by my wife, after I witnessed the incredible ordeal that she went through during pregnancy. So in a sense, the story is sort of a love letter to her. It’s also an ode to my mother, who endured similar trials. The protagonist is sort of a composite of them both, so in my mind, I was almost addressing them directly.
The second reason is because I wanted the story to have a sense of immediacy, as if both the reader and the main character are experiencing all this right now. I imagine pregnancy feels incredibly arduous, but in a strange way, frighteningly brief compared to what comes afterward. I wanted to capture that feeling, and I felt the second person POV helped create the effect I was going for.
What was the biggest challenge in writing this story?
I think the most difficult thing was creating a believable universe in a few thousand words, in a story that took place in—but was emphatically not about—that universe. In other words, while the story technically takes place in our own universe, it’s a universe very different than the one we know today, because making first contact with intelligent life would likely change a lot of things. Politics, religion, culture, technology, all of it would be affected. So in this story, the biggest challenge was alluding to all those changes in a way that enriched but didn’t obstruct the central plot.
What is your process for writing a short story? Do you plan first, get critiques, revise afterwards?
A lot of writers seem to be either outliners or “free-writers,” but like the protagonist’s baby, I’m a hybrid. I usually start with a basic plot, character, and/or idea in mind and just start writing. After a little bit, I can usually tell that a lot of new avenues for development have opened up. But which ones are worth exploring, and which are dead ends? That’s when I stop free-writing and start outlining, so I can proceed in a more controlled, organized manner. If I get stuck, I’ll start free-writing again to get the creative juices flowing, then outline again if necessary. Rinse and repeat.
Once I have a complete draft done, I’ll send it to some people for critiquing and either make revisions or throw the whole thing into the fire out of despair. (After saving a copy to my hard drive, of course. You never know when you can raise a story from the dead.)
What are you working on lately?
I’ve really fallen in love with short fiction over the past couple years. I recently sold a piece called “Survival of the Fittest” to Daily Science Fiction, and I have several other stories that I’m trying to find a home for. I’ve also written a science fiction novel called A Call for All Demons. I’ve just started querying agents, so wish me luck!
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