Lightspeed Author Interview: Sarah Pinsker

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lightspeed-magazine-issue-49-women-destroy-science-fiction-special-issue-cover-200x300Andrea Pawley interviews writer / singer / songwriter Sarah Pinsker. Yesterday it was announced that Pinsker’s story “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind” was the winner of this year’s Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award.

Q: This year you were nominated for a Nebula Award and won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, plus fourteen of your stories have been accepted for publication,  including one in the Women Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed. That’s impressive! How do you decide where to submit your stories?

Pinsker: I read a lot of short fiction. I think I have a good feel for which magazines are publishing what kind of stories. I’ll try the most likely market first, and then the editors ultimately decide whether my intuition lines up with theirs. If I believe in a story, I feel an obligation to try the most suitable magazines first. I’m also a big advocate for starting at the top, however you define the top. Aim high.

Q: Why do you write science fiction? 

Pinsker: I’ve been reading SF & F my whole life, starting with Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series, Le Guin’s Earthsea, Heinlein’s young reader books. I don’t remember how old I was when I discovered my father’s collection of science fiction magazines, but I would have been in the single digits. We got a computer when I was seven or so – one of the first PCs – and I started writing fiction immediately, mostly SF and horse stories. I think part of what I was doing was retelling novels I had read as short stories, but that was probably good practice for something. I love a good story regardless of genre, but if the question is why do I write SF, the adult me answers that it gives an opportunity to look at ourselves through a prism of otherness.

Q: What changes have you seen to SF&F since you started reading it?

Pinsker: I love the multitude of voices that we are finally getting to hear. Writers of all different backgrounds, telling stories of characters of all different colors and genders and nationalities and sexual orientations and ages and abilities/disabilities and economic backgrounds. SF is richer for this inclusion.

There’s also the rise of audio fiction – story podcasts, in particular – which open up a whole new range of ways to experience fiction. And eReaders, which I think can increase access to short fiction. But I’m selfishly glad that the act of reading hasn’t changed all that much. I can still pick up a book and be transported.

Sarah PinskerQ: You’re very active in the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. What’s the most unexpected thing that’s happened to you as a result?

Pinsker: The whole thing, really. I’ve lived in Baltimore for eighteen years, but never discovered that community until two years ago. I’ve made some good friends there, gotten some great story critiques. BSFS also gave me a chance to moderate panels before I’d done that sort of thing. As it turns out, I think I’m pretty decent at it. That gave me the confidence to apply for panels at cons, and to seek out those opportunities.

Oh, and I definitely never would have expected to be hosting a reading series/quiz show, but I’m co-hosting a series there, the quarterly Dangerous Voices Variety Hour.

Q: Some of your music contains references to fantastical feelings or events. Do your songs ever think they want to be short stories or vice versa? 

Pinsker: They’re usually pretty clear about which they want to be. Some of my songs definitely are stories. They have to accomplish a lot in a small number of words. The nice thing about a song is that you’re allowed to be a little more cryptic. I can paint a feeling and give the illusion of plot.

There’s a song that’s going to be on my new album, about a circus sideshow’s “living doll,” in love with the star of the show. It starts “I am just the size of a half-finished thought/and most of my thoughts are on you.” It’s full of hope and longing and the search for commonality, but I think I’d have to explain too much if it were a story.

Q: Is it true you once performed your music at a nudist colony? 

Pinsker: Absolutely! It was a great gig. The Avalon Music Festival. The audience is clothing-optional, and the performers can choose. I kept my clothes on. They have a gorgeous resort, and the people were all lovely. No phones or tablets or cameras allowed, so the audience pays better attention than at other festivals, which works well for lyric-driven music like mine.

Q: What are you working on now?

Pinsker: My new album is very close to done. This one has taken me a long time, but I think it’s going to be worth it. I’m writing a lot of stories, and I’ve got a couple of novel projects I try to give love to when I get a chance.

Sarah Pinsker is a singer/songwriter with three albums on various independent labels: two solo, one with her band, the Stalking Horses. A fourth is forthcoming. Since returning to fiction, she has made over twenty story sales to magazines, podcasts and anthologies. Her 2013 novelette, “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,”  was nominated for a Nebula award and won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. A DRM-free subscription to Lightspeed (including theThe Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced” in Women Destroy Science Fiction issue) can be purchased on Weightless Books.

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