Author Interview: Kelly Robson

It’s November 7th and that means it’s time for this month’s Author Interview! Every month I’ll be interviewing authors and creators about their newest works, their lives, and what influences them. This month’s interview is with Nebula Winner Kelly Robson.

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Kelly Robson. Photo Credit: Maxwell Ander

Hello Kelly! I’m very excited to have you here on the blog today! I like to start my interviews off with the ultimate softball question: tell us a little bit about yourself. What made you want to be a writer? What do you do when you’re not sitting at your keyboard?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. Book have always been the most important thing in the world to me. But I caught the short SFF bug when I was sixteen and picked up my first issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. Contemporary short SFF just blows my mind. It’s so powerful, so flexible.

I have a nine-to-five office job in downtown Toronto, which is only a fifteen minute walk from my apartment. I love not having a commute — it gives me time and energy for writing after work.

I discovered your writing through Tor.com late last year. It was ‘A Human Stain’ that drew me in. After I saw Sam Wolfe Connelly’s incredibly creepy art, I knew I had to read it. This story is a perfect example of how amazing speculative fiction can be. I think you must have performed some kind of gothic-magic to cram that much atmosphere and detail into 40 pages. Your story rightfully won the Nebula for Best Novelette. Can you give us some background on ‘A Human Stain’? What was it like to win that award?

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Isn’t that cover art amazing? I love it so much. Ellen Datlow edited “A Human Stain,” and she put me through FIVE rewrites. One of the great things about horror stories is the sensory detail — it’s not horror if you can’t feel it! The story wouldn’t have won the Nebula if Ellen hadn’t pushed me to perfect it, and at the end, neither she nor I could really tell if the story worked or not. So winning the award was a complete surprise. I really expected not to win, and my co-finalists are all people I know and like so I was rooting for them. Then at the ceremony, I was busy live-tweeting the results on my phone, and was poised to take a photo of the winner when my name was called. I sat with my mouth open for a full ten seconds before moving.

Your book ‘Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach’ landed on shelves in March of this year. Though I haven’t got a chance to read it yet (it’s in my teetering TBR pile) it looks like you’ve created a very unique world. How did you go about writing this book and managing all the demands that world-building requires?

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I go about world-building in an organic way, by reading a lot of interesting non-fiction and then synthesizing the best bits. I don’t really take notes, I just try to get an understanding of how the world works. So my Earth of 2267 is based on a lot of information from David Graeber’s terrific economics book Debt: The First 5000 Years combined with my own understanding of the professional services world to create a unique economic system. I really believe economics is the physics of world-building. Once you understand that piece, everything else falls into place.

A lot of young writers I talk to get discouraged with the grind (sending stories out on submission, etc.) and the constant struggle that is the publishing world. Do you have any advice for any writers looking to get published?

I tell new writers that the writers who make it are the ones who don’t quit, so to make it, you have to find the survival strategy that works for you. That’s going to be different for everyone. Maybe that means doing what I did: write a lot but not submit stories until I knew my stories were good enough to sell to the bigger SFFH markets. Other people find a way to enjoy the submission grind. Others go to a lot of workshops, and get tons of feedback on their drafts. So just do what’s right for you and don’t quit. If you never quit, you never fail.

What’s next for you? Any new books or stories on the horizon?

Right now, I’m working on a sequel to ‘Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach’. And I’m discovering that second books are really difficult.

Let’s talk about books for a moment. What’s in your To Be Read pile right now? Any books you’re looking forward to in the future?

I’m reading an arc of Caitlin Starling’s The Luminous Dead, which is an SF Horror and it’s simply terrific. It’ll be out next year. I’m reading a lot of horror right now. And I’m desperately looking forward to Annalee Newitz’s next novel, which I think should be out next year, too!

Last question: You’re stranded on a desert island with one historical figure from any point in history. Who’s it going to be?

Such a hard question! I think it would have to be Oscar Wilde, because I’d really like to collaborate with him on a decadent, epic space opera.

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