Interview with Nebula & Hugo Award Nominee Nancy Fulda

In last month’s SF&F Corner post, I interviewed Nebula Award nominee Brad R. Torgersen, and I promised an interview with the other LDS nominee, Nancy Fulda, in this month’s post.  However, between that post and this one, the Hugo Award nominations were announced, so I will discuss the LDS Hugo nominees before getting to the interview.

The Hugo Awards have been given out by the World Science Fiction Convention (colloquially known as WorldCon) most years since 1953.

Both Brad and Nancy received Hugo nominations in the respective categories for their Nebula-nominated stories.  Other LDS Hugo nominees this year are:

  • Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Jordan Sanderson (along with non-LDS co-host Mary Robinette Kowal), in the Best Related Work category, for Writing Excuses: Season 6. This is their second consecutive nomination in the category.
  • Howard Tayler and Travis Walton, in the Best Graphic Story category, for Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication. This is Howard’s fourth consecutive nomination in the category and Travis’s second.

Past LDS Hugo nominees include M. Shayne Bell (1 nomination), Orson Scott Card (16 nominations, 3 wins), Zenna Henderson (1 nomination), Raymond F. Jones (1 regular nomination, 1 retroactive nomination), and this humble blogger (1 nomination). (Hat tip to Marny Parkin’s Bibliography of Mormon Speculative Fiction.)

Brad R. Torgersen was also nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which is included as part of the Hugo ballot but is not a Hugo Award.  Past LDS Campbell nominees include Orson Scott Card (winner), Larry Correia, Brandon Sanderson, and Dan Wells.

Now, on to the interview with Nancy Fulda (which was conducted before the Hugo nominees were announced):

Nancy Fulda’s Hugo and Nebula Award-nominated short story, “Movement,” appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction. (The story is available free on Nancy’s website, or you can buy an ebook version at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.)

Nancy’s career as a professional speculative fiction writer began in 2004, when she was one of the winners of the Phobos Fiction Contest (as was a certain author of this blog post). Her fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among other venues, and she was the 2011 winner of the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest sponsored by the National Space Society and Baen Books. She worked for several years as an assistant editor for the online magazine Jim Baen’s Universe, and is the brains behind AnthologyBuilder.com, which allows customers to create custom anthologies from a selection of over 1400 different stories by more than 350 authors.  She lives with her family in Germany.  Her website can be found at www.nancyfulda.com.

1. First off, congratulations on the Nebula Award nomination for your short story “Movement.” What can you tell us about how you came to write the story?

I’ve always been fascinated by evolution, and especially by the idea that evolution is not strictly a biological principle. So when the story prompts for a contest at my online writer’s group included a picture of a frog on a flytrap, I immediately latched onto the idea of futuristic flytraps eating crumbs tossed to them by human children. That was the first vivid image of the story.

The second image, also a story prompt, was a portrait of the dancer Drew Jacoby. The image, aptly titled “The Passion of Dance” emitted so much vibrant energy that Hannah’s love of ballet was an almost inevitable result. I began to explore the idea of a ballet dancer, simultaneously aware of the movements within her own body and of the celestial dance of planets and galaxies. The more I wrote, the more clear it became that Hannah’s view of the world was very, very different than my own.

As a contest competitor, “Movement” was a flop. It tanked in the first round of voting, but the reader responses convinced me to move the flytraps farther back in the story and emphasize, instead, Hannah’s dilemma in the opening scene. The image of Hannah at the window, and of the rustling paper sack beneath her bed, became the focal points I needed to tell the rest of the story.

2. What role, if any, do you feel your LDS faith played in writing this story? Beyond that, what influence does your faith have on your writing in general?

It’s my personal belief that authors can’t help injecting their world view into their work. It’s a subconscious process. We write what we see, we write what we experience; how can we not also write what we believe?

I seldom write with a thematic agenda, and I’m always fascinated, looking back, to see what has emerged in the subtext of a story. In “Movement,” if you look closely, there is a very compelling statement about agency in the final paragraphs. There is also a clear connection to eternal progression, with Hannah striving to fill the measure of her creation.

Some of my other work addresses religion more directly. In “Godshift,” I posit a situation in which God takes a more active role in human affairs, and in “The Death and Rebirth of Anne Bonny,” a young girl discovers that items with no physical manifestation can still have value. But I think that gospel’s strongest influence on my writing will always be found within the subtle optimism that pervades the stories. Even those with sad endings tend to reaffirm the belief that our actions have meaning, that our sacrifices have worth, and that our aspirations are achievable.

3. Who are some of the authors who have influenced you the most?

C.S. Lewis is a big one. I love The Pilgrim’s Regress and Mere Christianity. I adore the way he unifies faith and scholarship.

Other favorite authors include Robin McKinley, Lois McMaster Bujold, Timothy Zahn and Larry Niven.

4. What got you into writing science fiction?

We used to watch Star Trek when I was a kid, first the original episodes and then, later, the Next Generation. Man, I loved those films. It was like an idea-fest in all-you-can-eat buffet format. Once I was old enough, I started systematically reading through the stacks at my local library, and as soon as I was old enough to type I started writing stories on my Dad’s computer. I meticulously saved those first stories on 5 1/4 inch floppies, which, it turned out, was a good way to make sure they would be utterly unreadable fifteen years later. But by then the pattern was established, and I’ve been writing ever since.

5. So far, you’re mainly known for your short fiction. Do you have a novel in the works?

I do. It’s set on a world where even summer is cold, seasons last 300 years, and only the swift-moving twilight region is comfortably habitable. This planet is occupied by nomadic caravans that travel along the terminus between Day and Night.

Well, ‘caravan’ might give the wrong impression. Imagine a loose chain of landships pulled by reptiles twice the size of a house. And imagine that the challenge lies not in getting the lizards to move forward, but in getting them to stop. There are smaller lizards, too, and funky birdlike creatures that can be ridden like horses.

Now imagine, in the midst of that caravan, a little girl who keeps getting in trouble for doing what’s right.

That’s the initial scenario of A New Kind of Sunrise. Before the story’s done, there will be sandstorms, bandits, a blazing landship, and one little girl all grown up and ready to save humanity.

6. What advice do you have for would-be writers?

First: Write. Second: Learn and follow Heinlein’s Rules. Third: Join a critique group. Fourth: Learn when to ignore your critique group. Fifth: Keep Writing.

7. What question should I have asked you, but didn’t, and what is your answer?

Okay, the question is: “You’re the mother of three children.  Do you find it difficult to find a balance between your writing and your time with your family?”

Oh, absolutely.  But it does get easier with practice.

Producing creative output with a baby in the house is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.  As a new parent, you no longer have long stretches of quiet time in which to coax the muse out of hiding. There’s just a frantic jumble of interruptions which, during the early years, don’t even stop when you crawl into bed for the night. There doesn’t seem to be enough time or energy to go around.

It’s all very frustrating, and more so because everyone else seems to have a magic recipe. Write on the bus. Stay up late after the kids are asleep. Use your lunch hour at work. Learn to write faster, learn to write more carefully… the list goes on and on until you feel like climbing on top of your chair and screaming WHY HAS EVERYBODY ELSE GOT IT FIGURED OUT EXCEPT ME?!?

The trick, I think, is to accept that writing doesn’t exist in isolation.  If you create more time for writing, the dishes may not get done.  If one of the kids get sick, you may miss a submission window.  This doesn’t mean you’re a failure.  It just means you’re a human being with lots of responsibilities to juggle.

In a way, I think my children are part of the reason I’ve been able to write so consistently and so well.  I always knew that writing wasn’t the top priority in my life, that I’d drop it in a second if I ever felt that it was sapping too much time and energy.  This provided a handy emotional buffer whenever something went wrong in my career.  In the back of my mind, I knew I always had the option of walking away.  Writing wasn’t the most important thing, and so there was no need to panic at major setbacks.

Not-panicking is a surprisingly handy coping mechanism, by the way.  I highly recommend it.

About Eric James Stone

A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies of humorous horror, among other venues. One of Eric’s earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his fascination with space travel. His father’s collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. While getting his political science degree at Brigham Young University, Eric took creative writing classes. He wrote several short stories, and even submitted one for publication, but after it was rejected he gave up on creative writing for a decade. During those years Eric graduated from Baylor Law School, worked on a congressional campaign, and took a job in Washington, DC, with one of those special interest groups politicians always complain that other politicians are influenced by. He quit the political scene in 1999 to work as a web developer in Utah. In 2002 he started writing fiction again, and in 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. In 2007 Eric got laid off from his day job just in time to go to the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He has since found a new web development job. In 2009 Eric became an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Eric lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah.
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18 Responses to Interview with Nebula & Hugo Award Nominee Nancy Fulda

  1. A splendid interview, Nancy! Wonderful commentary.

  2. Wm says:

    I need to start practicing the art of not-panicking.

    Great interview. Thanks, Nancy and Eric.

  3. James Goldberg says:

    “Even those with sad endings tend to reaffirm the belief that our actions have meaning, that our sacrifices have worth, and that our aspirations are achievable.”

    I think that’s a great articulation of the subtle Mormon-ness that (I hope!) pervades my own works.

  4. Jonathan Langford says:

    Excellent interview. Some great reminders.

  5. Wm says:

    I’m interested by the fact that you drew inspiration from two images for this story, Nancy. Does that often happen? Or was it just a byproduct of the contest?

    And for other authors: do you get story ideas from visual media? Any examples you’d be willing to share?

    • Mark Penny says:

      There must be some in my catalogue, but the only remotely relevant example I have online right now is Soundtrack, inspired by Muzak in the basement of a Japanese department store in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan.

      • Mark Penny says:

        A few weeks ago, I wrote The Ghost in the Coals as an exercise in portraying event and emotion through a character’s description of a static scene. After writing it, I felt like it read like a picture—one of those rewinding-short-clip pictures in the Harry Potter movies.

  6. Marny says:

    Very nice interview. One of these days, we need to have you come to LTUE when you are in the States. We unfortunately don’t have the budget to fly you in from Germany. :(

  7. Th. says:

    .

    I loved all three short stories linked to from this article

    Wm: “Blood-Red Fruit” was inspired by its accompanying image. And even though Danny Nelson wrote half of it, it’s still one of my favorites from my own oeuvre. Assuming it’s not pretentious to use the word oeuvre when talking about one’s own work.

    • Mark Penny says:

      Wow! Wish I’d written that story. Cool premise. Engaging characters (and idiom). Great pacing.

    • Jonathon says:

      I love the Fob, and am very sad that my copy has gone missing somewhere. London, I think. But perhaps it will result in a conversion or two, if some lucky Italian fellow finds it coverless in a coal bin.

  8. Katya says:

    It’s only pretentious if you spell it “œuvre.”

  9. Mark Penny says:

    What a well-grounded person! I am now going to read “Movement“.

  10. Jonathon says:

    I just picked up _The Chronicles of Harris Burdick_, which works off of a premise (very Hawthornean–and perhaps historically true) that an artist/writer approached a publisher 35 years ago with 14 illustrations in a portfolio, and stated that, were the publisher interested, he had 14 stories to go with them. He was never heard from again, and his stories were never found. Enter Chris Van Allsburg, who requisitions stories from some pretty well-known writers, each based on a panel and its intimations,

    I should also note that Professor Pennywhistle is fond of a creative process he calls “arting” instead of “illustrating” (a term, he insists, ought never to be used in a sentence after a terminal soft ‘f,’ unless one intends to giggle and/or cause to giggle). In his words (and I quote), “[t]his process involves the serendipitous, complementary, and entirely accidental relation of an image to a text, though said relation ought never to be direct or literal, as this would lead to the kind of confusion often experienced by scientists, logicians, and other poor, deluded, rational types. It ought, instead, to be parenthetical, orthogonal, allusive, or hermeneutical in nature. The process can also work the other way, but only if there is irony involved, and just as long as the writer waits twenty minutes after arting before bathing.”

    Also, we both think Nancy Fulda is wonderful, if for no other reason than that she works in an entirely different genre than the Professor, and is therefore neither a competitor nor a threat. But she is also a wonderful writer.

  11. Jonathon says:

    I repent me of the terminal comma above, under the condition of the forgiveness of at least one reader.

    • Jonathon says:

      And of so much else. One ought not to attempt cleverness on the internet after one has eaten beef brisket.

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