I do plan on sticking around here as well, at least until the new season of television starts, when I’ll be too busy watching Stargate Universe. 🙂
Finally, I know a lot of you had fascinating comments to make that I would love to respond to, if I had the time. But then I’d never get around to writing something new. So I’ll just stick with the direct questions that our host has sent my way.
Your questions, my answers:
Sylvia writes: “I don’t have a question but wondering if you would be able to share more thoughts on the story, I remember the future. The statement, “I remember the future and the future remembered me” resonated with me – and I am not able to really describe why I found that statement moving.
Thank you Mr. Burstein for a great read and joining Mr. M’s blog. It is delightful to see you posting from time to time.”
Michael: “I Remember the Future” was one of those stories that took me a long time to figure out, but once I had an idea of what the story had to be about, I knew exactly where to go with it. There isn’t much more I can say about it that I didn’t already cover in the afterword. I am glad that the final statement resonated with you. And I could hazard a guess as to why you found it moving. I think it’s because it reminds us that we have roots not just in the past but in the future as well, a concept I first learned from the books of Spider Robinson.
As for my posting in Joseph Mallozzi’s blog, I actually browsed this blog before, but tended mostly to lurk. But as I noted above, I plan to stick around for a while. I came for the Stargate, but I’m staying for the snark.
StellarGate writes: “Thanks for a great recommendation. I have some questions for the author –
1. You’ve been compared to some might celebrated scifi authors. Which of these authors influenced you as a writer? Judging from the afterword to Cosmic Corkscrew, I’m guessing Asimov was one?
2. What made you decide to pursue writing? How long did it take you to make your first sale and was there any point a which you thought of giving up or were you determined to make that sale?
3. So far, you have a good amount of short stories under your belt. Have you given any thought to maybe some day writing a novel.
4. Finally, what part does your wife play in the writing process? Throughout the book, you mention the fact that your wife reads your stuff and offers her opinions. Does she function as your editor or is she more an unbiased sounding board more representative of the general reading public?
Thanks for taking my questions.
Michael: 1. Isaac Asimov was beyond a doubt the writer who influenced me the most. I actually was lucky enough to meet him a few times and to have something of a personal relationship with him; if you want more details, you can read the article I wrote published by the fanzine Mimosa called “Asimov and Me” (http://www.jophan.org/mimosa/m21/burstein.htm).
Oddly enough, I’ve never been as into the writing of Arthur C. Clarke as I was into the writing of Isaac Asimov. Asimov himself used to say that people who liked his writing tended to like Clarke’s and vice-versa. In my case, though, while I found some of Clarke’s stories to be quite powerful (such as “The Star”), I never collected his books the way I did Asimov’s.
Robert A. Heinlein was also a major influence, though I came to his work later than many. And Spider Robinson’s books, especially the ones about Callahan’s saloon, made a deep impression on me.
But you know what else influenced me? Star Trek. Star Wars. Superman. I grew up watching Star Trek in reruns, and Star Wars came out when I was a kid. Furthermore, as far back as I can remember, I read the DC Comics superhero stories; in fact, I still have my childhood comic book collection in storage, because I have a very understanding wife.
2. I’m not quite sure what made me choose to pursue writing, but I know I was interested in writing from a very young age. I remember creating my own scroll of mythological stories at the age of five or six, so obviously I enjoyed writing even then. (Or maybe I just enjoyed taping pieces of paper together to make scrolls.)
As for the rest of the question; see my response below to SciFi Reader, who asked a similar question.
3. In truth, I’ve written two science fiction novels that have made the rounds of the publishers, but no editor has yet chosen to buy them. Perhaps I still need to improve my novel writing skills, as I’ve always naturally been drawn to the short form.
4. With rare exceptions, every piece of my writing that goes out the door is reviewed by Nomi first. I’m very fortunate to be married to a fellow writer and editor, and as an editor myself I know that it is difficult to be a good judge of one’s own work.
In the beginning, Nomi did look at my stories but I didn’t always listen to her advice. Then, as I relate in the afterword to “Broken Symmetry,” Stanley Schmidt, the editor of Analog, advised me to listen to Nomi after he found out from us that her suggestions had vastly improved the original draft of the story. So Nomi now cheerfully (well, most of the time) serves as a sounding board and as a first editor for all my fiction and much of my non-fiction. In fact, I ran this blog post past her before sending it to Joseph Mallozzi for posting.
Thornyrose writes: “With Spaceships, we’re given a slightly melencholy view of immortality. ( Can one say Ascension?). It seems even in the far future, eccentricity is frowned upon, and Kel is victimized by those who are not actually harmed by his peculiar obsession. I did have a minor quibble here; how did Kel get possession of the actual originals? Surely most had long since been destroyed before he reached his near-omnipotent level of development.”
Michael: “Ascension, eh? I think the theme of human beings transcending themselves has been around in SF a while before Stargate used that term; in fact, didn’t Star Trek do it first? (That’s for Joe; I’m sure he appreciates hearing it.) The main reason eccentricity is frowned upon in the future of “Spaceships” is because in a way, humanity has become one overall hive mind. Anyone who doesn’t want to be a part of that would seem odd to the mainstream.
As to how Kel got possession of the original spaceships, the way I see it, many spaceships had been destroyed over the millennia, but many others had been left behind. Humanity didn’t have a need to destroy them at first; it’s only much later on, closer to the time of the story, that humanity became actively interested in removing these last vestiges of their mortality.
Think of it this way. The first ascended beings had other concerns than destroying the spaceships. They were simply irrelevant, like the shed skin left behind by a snake. So there was no compelling reason to destroy them, until they discovered Kel’s eccentricity.
Lt. Dominick writes: “Another reason to draw comparisons between this book and the novels of greats like Clarke and Asimov is the thought-provoking nature of all these works. A lot of contemporary science fiction shows off intellect but lacks heart, and I think that’s what Burstein has in spades. His stories challenge the reader on a moral AND intellectual level, something many modern science fiction readers fail to do, but which authors like Clarke and Asimov did on a regular basis. Which brings me to my questions for Mr. Burstein: You obviously have great admiration for classic science fiction, but which contemporary genre writers do you enjoy reading?”
Michael: I’m always wary of making a list like this, because I know I’ll forget someone, but…
Contemporary science-fiction writers I enjoy reading today include Robert J. Sawyer, Paul Levinson, Jack McDevitt, Catherine Asaro, and Jennifer Pelland.
I try not to miss the newer writers as well, so I subscribe to the big three magazines (Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF) and try to keep up with the other short fiction being published.
I’m also interested in other types of fiction; I’m a fan of the mystery novels of Lawrence Block and William G. Tapply, to name two.
And I would be remiss if I failed to mention Robert Masello, an underrated writer who has worked in magazines, television, and prose. He just had a new novel come out, Blood and Ice, that I highly recommend if you like thrillers.
Sparrow_hawk writes: “My one question for Michael Burstein is from Spaceships: Was Ria named for your favorite classic sci-fi authors: (R)obert Heinlein, (I)saac Asimov and (A)rthur Clarke? If so, who is Kel named for?”
Michael: Wow! That’s not something I did deliberately. If I recall correctly, Ria came from wanting to use the name Rita. As for Kel, I know I wanted the name, but for the life of me I can’t recall where it came from. I think there was something in the phrase “Kel-Ria” that resonated for me. Anyone reading this have any clue? Let me know.
Thornyrose writes: “A couple of questions to Mr. Burnstein, if it’s not too late. First, have you considered doing a sequel to Empty Spaces? I’d love to see the long term consequences to the “solution” used to stabalize the gate. What do you find most challenging, and/or most enjoyable to write? Short story, novella, novels? And have you considered stepping out of the sci fi genre to write? I recall Isaac Asimov was a member of the Baker Street Irregulars. Have you followed in his footsteps there? And I’d like to thank you for participating in Mr. M’s blog, as well as having the outstanding taste of being an Asimov fan.”
Michael: My files actually include notes on how I would continue the “Broken Symmetry” sequence beyond “Empty Spaces.” Years ago, I attempted to turn “Broken Symmetry” into a novel, and so I took the three stories that I had written, outlined the rest of the book, and tried to sell the novel. Eventually, I retired it, but when it came time to publish the book “I Remember the Future” I decided to turn part four of the novel into “Empty Spaces.” At this stage in my life, I’d probably only actually write the fifth story if I knew in advance that some market would pay for it.
That may sound sad, or overly mercenary, but the fact is that any writer’s time is limited, and all writers have to prioritize their projects. I remember reading in Piers Anthony’s autobiography his claim that some of his best novels had never been written. You see, once a writer gets to be an established novelist, he or she can sell a book to a publisher based solely on a proposal or outline for a novel. After Anthony became a bestselling novelist, that’s how he would work. So he would send his publisher outlines for three or four possible novels, and the publisher would send him a contract for the one that sounded best to them. Consequently, Anthony has some outlines for novels that he’s never written.
I think all writers have files of ideas we’ve never turned into final stories. In my own case, as much as I still love the “Broken Symmetry” stories, I’ve moved onto other challenges. So I doubt a sequel to “Empty Spaces” will ever be published at this point. Sorry about that.
I find novels the most challenging to write, but this is not to say that short stories are easy. I think all writing, good writing, takes a lot of effort on the part of the writer. At the moment, the length I think I’m enjoying most are the novelette and novella. They give you more room to develop your world than a short story, but they’re not as daunting as a novel.
I’m considering writing some straight mysteries; in fact, I just made a point of joining MWA so I could have more contact with established mystery writers. I have not joined the Baker Street Irregulars, but not for lack of interest; I’ve just never gotten around to it. I’ve re-read the Sherlock Holmes stories dozens of times.
And you’re welcome for my participation in Joe’s blog; here, I’m just a fan like the rest of us. (And may I complement you on being an Asimov fan as well.)
SciFiReader writes: “Hello to Michael A. Burstein. I really enjoyed I Remember the Future for what has already been discussed, the intelligent and thought-provoking ideas and the class science fiction concepts that you have placed in a theoretical “science fact” frame. Congratulations on all of the nominations and like Joe says I am sure it is only a matter of time before you win the big awards.
Now some questions if I may. I would like to know about how yout got started. What made you decide to take up writing. How did you go about trying to get published? How many rejections did you get and why did you keep on going despite them?”
Michael: How I got started… I’m going to paraphrase from an interview I gave a few years ago to the Reflection’s Edge webzine.
When I was a kid, I was interested in writing, but I was also interested in science. And beginning around the age of nine, I made science my focus.
Which is not to say that I didn’t try writing. At the age of twelve, I wrote a bunch of stories and submitted them to the science fiction magazines. The stories, unfortunately, were rather bad. As I noted before, I was more comfortable writing in the short form, and so I tended to come up with a clever idea but have no idea how to develop it. So my stories were mostly short-shorts with surprise endings, kind of like the Probability Zero stories that Analog publishes.
I did try writing longer works; in ninth grade I formed a school club called Bookwriters. Our goal was to work together as a group to write a novel by the end of the school year. We never managed it, but we did learn a bit about writing. (One of the other members of that group was Charles Ardai, my best friend in high school and now the publisher of Hard Case Crime.)
In college, I was too busy to pursue writing, as I was earning a degree in Physics and hoping to become a working scientist. I did submit a crime story to both Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, but neither magazine took it. Anyway, once I graduated college I figured that I would focus on science and forget about writing.
But in graduate school, I discovered that that day-to-day life of a scientist wasn’t really for me. So I rediscovered a love of writing, and of science fiction. Nomi, who was my girlfriend at the time and is now my wife, brought me to my first science fiction convention, Arisia ’92. As I sat in on panels, where people discussed topics from the science of time travel to preparing yourself for a career in space, I decided that I wanted to become a part of it as a writer of science fiction.
So at the same time as I was working on my Master’s in Physics and becoming a teacher, I also studied the craft of fiction. I bought every book on fiction writing that seemed remotely useful; all of them still sit on a bookcase in my office, for quick reference. I wrote story after story after story, and sent them off to all the major markets, earning a whole stack of form rejection letters.
And then finally, Stanley Schmidt, the editor of Analog, sent me a personal rejection note. I knew that if an editor showed any interest at all in your work, you should try that editor again, so Analog became my primary market. One day Stan sent a note about my story “TeleAbsence,” which implied that he’d like to see it again if I rewrote it. I rewrote, but it still wasn’t at a point where Stan felt it was publishable. However, by then I had been accepted to the 1994 Clarion Workshop. I brought the story with me and got feedback from my teachers and fellow students. Based on that feedback, I rewrote the story again, and it was this third version that appeared in the July 1995 Analog as my first published fiction.
What kept me going through all those rejections was a fierce, intense desire to tell the stories that I wanted to tell. And I’m very glad I persevered.
Alan5 writes: “Hi, I hope I”m not to late for questions for Michael Burstein.
1. Please tell us about your writing process. Do you come up with an idea and plan it out in detail or do you just start writing and see where it takes you?
2. Do you have any writing secrets? For instance, Stephen King says he likes to listen to rock music when he writes. Other writes like to work in the morning. Others like to work late at night. Do you have a routine or is it just when the inspiration hits you?
3. Do you have any advice for writers just starting out?”
Michael: 1. Usually, I come up with some idea that obsesses me, and that leads me to write the story. Or I steal someone else’s obsession; for example, “Time Ablaze” came about because of my wife’s interest in the General Slocum disaster, which soon became my own.
When I first started out as a teenager, I tended to go directly to my electric typewriter, write the story once, and decide that was it. Today, I tend to outline every story I write, even the very short ones. So the answer to your question is that I plan every story out in meticulous detail, and sometimes that planning includes writing dialogue or description that find their way verbatim into the stories.
2. In my ideal world, I’d sleep in the morning until I naturally woke up, then write in the morning, and leave my afternoon open for other tasks. In fact, due to the generosity of my wife, I actually spent a year like that. In reality, since I have a day job, I write as I can. I try to write during my lunch break and in the evenings. As for music, I can’t write well if I’m listening to music accompanied by lyrics, so rock music, as much as I enjoy it, would be right out. (As would Gilbert & Sullivan, although I love their work too.) The music that helps me most is Mozart.
3. Most of the advice I’d offer is rather prosaic; how many times have aspiring writers been told to read and write as much as they can? On a meta level, I’d say to seek out all the writing resources you possibly can. Two I think are useful are the writing resources at SFWA website (http://www.sfwa.org/writing) and the Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy online course created by writer Jeffrey Carver and available for free at http://www.writesf.com. Jeff also has a nice page of writing advice at http://www.starrigger.net/advice.htm. Truly, any advice I’d give you can be found there.
And come to think of it, if you’re involved with a workshop, I’d highly recommend using the Turkey City Lexicon primer as a starting point; it’s filled with many of the classic errors found in beginners’ stories. A copy of the lexicon can be found at http://www.sfwa.org/writing/turkeycity.html.
Iamza writes: “Question for Mr Burstein (am I too late? He’s a reader of the blog, right?): When is the novel coming out?”
Michael: See above; I’m not the only one who gets to decide when the novel comes out, alas.
I’ll end this with a piece of trivia for my Canadian readers: the protagonist of the first novel I wrote was named Robert Bondar Garneau. If you’re Canadian, you’ll understand.
That seems to be it. Thanks to everyone for reading the book, and for your questions, and I’ll continue to see you around Joe’s blog.
Cat4444 writes: “Also, can we expect more spoilers from the pups on the SGA movie?”
Nadine writes: “Not sure if I missed it, but have you seen Star Trek yet? If so, did you like it? If not, any plans to see it?”
Answer: I don’t go to see movies anymore. I’ll probably pick up the dvd.
SebiMeyer writes: “Will the SGA and SG1 movie look like the SG we know, or more like the SGU we will come to love?”
Answer: The SGA movie will remain visually and narratively true to the series.
SebiMeyer writes: “How is the writing staff liking the more character based approach? Personally I’d venture the guess that it is “easier” to have stories inspire other stories based on character developments rather than having to come up with a “alien X is totally going to kick our ass untill we turn it around last minute” stories of the week. Am I right in assuming that this kind of fatigue was reason why the writers (yourself included) wanted to shake it up up a bit?”
Answer: I don’t think there was any fatigue involved. After all, Brad and Robert stepped away from the day-to-day production of Atlantis. They were well-rested, creatively buzzing, and eager to spin the franchise off in a new direction. As for the more character-based approach – love it.
Miz writes: “ Why does there need to be romance in the SGA movie at all? Isn’t this a sci-fi adventure series? You know, action, drama, tension, hijinks, all awesome – but kissing and cooing?”
Answer: Who said anything about kissing and cooing? The movie will be action-driven.
Shannon writes: “The previous question about Weir left me wondering – do you think the robot Weir is awake while floating through space or did she shut down?”
Answer: Her system – and the systems of her fellow replictors – have shut down. However, if anyone is foolish enough to mount a recovery and then attempt to awake them, they’d be asking for trouble.
Venya writes: “Does Sheppard’s infatuation with Teyla have anything to do with his ex-wife?”
Answer: Sheppard is infatuated with Teyla?
Nadine writes: “Did you check out any of the other pics?”
Answer: Adorable. If we lived on a farm, we’d not doubt have an English bulldog as well.
Quade1 writes: “Joe you always talk about how great the actors/crew are to work with. Would you say working on the show made the people so great, or that the people working on the show made it great?”
Answer: The people were great to begin with and that made working with them something to look forward to. Trust me, there’s no worse feeling than waking up in the morning knowing you’ll be putting up with some jerk blowhard for the greater part of the day.