Author Interview: Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

After reading When the Blue Shift Comes by Silverberg and Zinos-Amaro I felt I had to interview newcomer Alvaro Zinos-Amaro. I had a couple questions about the content of the book, but mostly I wanted an inside look at what it was like to finish a story for someone else, especially when that someone is one of the biggest names in all of fiction! Fortunately, he was generous enough to answer a few of my questions:

[Scott Asher] Congratulations on your first published book! It seems to me that this was a frakkin hard way to get started – finishing a book that Grandmaster Robert Silverberg (RS) admits he couldn’t! What was it like finishing someone else’s story instead of writing your own from start to finish? Did you feel any additional pressure because you were writing a conclusion to a story by someone whose work you admire?

[AZA] Thank you! This was a rare opportunity, and I couldn’t pass on it. I’m incredibly grateful to RS, Mike Resnick, and Shahid Mahmud for the chance to participate. In finishing someone else’s story, there were what I chose to think of as several advantages. I had protagonists, I had a universe, and I had some sense of what was possible and was impossible in that universe. It was also pretty easy to identify plot elements that needed resolution. And there was the issue of style; a heightened, flamboyant, self-aware voice I knew I needed to maintain. I looked on these constraints as helpful rather than limiting. I approached the project as a series of technical challenges to be overcome, and kept subdividing these tasks into smaller and smaller units until they seemed doable. I created a very detailed outline before I wrote a word of the story, and then it was 1,000 words of first draft on Monday, revise the fourth scene on Tuesday, that sort of thing. Once it was all done and I had mailed it to RS, I did feel trepidation. This is ROBERT S-I-L-V-E-R-B-E-R-G, y’a know? But he replied quickly and reassuringly, praising my work. I got the giggles and abandoned my diet of liquids and papaya seeds.

[SA] What did you have to work with from RS?

[AZA] I received the novella “The Song of Last Things” in pretty much the form it was eventually published, and a sticky note that said “Good luck, kid. Now save the universe.” (That last part isn’t true.) RS had written more of the story, and part of an outline, but he elected not to share these things with me before I wrote my sequel, out of concern that it might lead me in unprofitable directions. I’m thankful that he didn’t, though it was fun to compare notes afterward.

[SA] About the gap between inception and completion: did it seem to you that Robert Silverberg was using science in his book that was dated to 1987, like a universe that is eternal that expands and contracts eternally as he seemed to be referring to? Did you feel like you had to bring it up to our current model of expanding finite universe but somehow remain faithful to the original? Maybe I read too much into it.

[Alvaro Zinos-Amaro] I didn’t think of it that way, but rather as just one more given of our story. Robert Silverberg introduced certain problems in his novella – the voracious anomaly causing a huge collapse in spacetime being an important one, but by no means the only one – and I saw it as my task to resolve them in a way that would be both consistent with what had come before, but also as unexpected as possible.

[SA] Reading RS’s novella I started to worry that he spent so much time on the premise that he wouldn’t leave you enough time to resolve everything. RS spent quite a bit of time reiterating the vast difference between the immortals’ time in the story and ours, the differences between planets and civilizations and cultures. By contrast, it seemed like you spent very little time on these topics. Was this because he left so much to resolve in so little space or something else?

[AZA] One of the things I had going in my favor was that key world-building had been done for me, and this included setting the story in an unimaginably distant future, as you point out. On occasion I made use of certain asides to highlight that sense of immense history (like events from the Fourth Mandala, for example, and how Earth historians from the Ninth Mandala view them) and other technological abilities, but I didn’t feel like these aspects needed much elaboration.

[SA] What book(s) or author(s) influenced you, if any, in writing this story?

[AZA] RS, of course (not just this novella, but many previous works); Robert Sheckley; Cordwainer Smith; Frederick Pohl; Philip K. Dick; and others. I planted some “easter eggs” in titles and descriptive phrases that reference these writers and their works, and that no-one will ever pick up on.

[SA] What should the reader take away from the completed story?

[AZA] Probably six or seven semicolons, for I may have used too many.

[SA] What’s next?

[AZA] More short fiction, including a collaboration; a few reviews, interviews, possibly an article. I know I have a dental appointment coming up soon. And in 2013 I will tackle my first novel, and we’ll see if it wants to tackle me back.

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