What was the inspiration for “Life on the Moon”?
It started off with the scene of a garden on the Moon popping into my mind. In my imagination, it was not a garden inside a habitat or on a terraformed lunar landscape, but a garden on the airless, lifeless surface. How could you do that? What would it look like? Why would you do that? And the story grew backward and forward from there.
The world of “Life on the Moon” is very rich — how do you go about layering such richness and complexity into a short story?
Synecdoche. Lots of working in of small moments, telling details, so that my readers, who are usually much smarter than I am, can create the world in their own minds. Fiction is always an imaginative collaboration between the writer and the reader, with the often unsuspecting reader doing most of the work.
Nell and Henry are so beautifully drawn — how did your vision for these characters change over the writing of the story?
The characters grew out of a relationship I had at the time with a woman who was a wonderful architect. And I started off my so-called career in the long ago before time by writing poetry. In fact, I remember once waiting for a check for a poem to arrive from Asimov’s so I could eat! Twenty-seven bucks it was, and I was glad of it. Also, I remember I’d just read some story by Lucius . . . Lucius Shepard, who was a mentor of mine . . . and it had a complex relationship between a couple, and, as usual, I tried to emulate Lucius’s work.
Were there any scenes or plot elements you struggled to set aside?
No, but there were some I had a blast putting in there. I really enjoy writing sex scenes, for instance. I put them in my work every chance I get. I don’t know if you can write a story for adults without sex coming into play somehow or another. I can’t.
“Life on the Moon” was nominated for a Hugo and won the Readers Choice award from Asimov’s: What most stood out for you about readers’ responses to the story?
People liked the poetry. I was a bit surprised because it was tailored as a means to telling the story, and I wasn’t sure how good it was by itself. Still not, but it does what it is supposed to, I think.
You taught science fiction for a number of years: Where does this story sit in the universe of SF, its arcs/evolution?
It is a story in the John W. Campbell mode — that is, it is about ordinary people dealing with problems and opportunities that revolve around science fictional elements. I have always found it interesting to juxtapose people in normal human situations against the cold equations of a vast and dangerous universe that is not particularly hospitable to people’s hopes and aspirations.
Whose science fiction do you find exciting to read?
Stories that make me think I am in a real future instead of some allegorical version of the present. It is extraordinarily hard to do this.
Any news you want to share?
I am working on a high fantasy, believe it or not! It’s an idea that’s been knocking at the door for years.
Spread the word!