Sarah Pinsker is the author of the novelette “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,” Sturgeon Award winner 2014 and Nebula finalist 2013.
JMW: Hello. This is Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com. With me today is singer, songwriter, and award-winning short story writer Sarah Pinsker. Welcome, Sarah.
Sarah Pinsker: Hello, it’s nice to be here.
JMW: We’re glad to have you. Congratulations on winning the Sturgeon for your novelette, ‘Enjoy Knowing the Abyss Behind.’
Sarah Pinsker: You got it, you got it.
JMW: That is a heck of mouthful. You didn’t just win the Sturgeon. You also were a finalist in the Nebula for it. Wow. This isn’t your only short story by a long shot. You write a lot of them, and you specialized in them. In this market, that would seem rather hard. Why did you decide to specialize in the shorter form of science fiction and fantasy literature?
Sarah Pinsker: I think I’m one of the rare people who not only… I grew up reading short stories as much as novels. My family had all of the ‘Year’s Best’ anthologies and all of the single author collections in genre. I had this vast collection to look at and to read and absorb. It’s a length I like. As a musician, I also am used to working in the compressed format. It’s not unfamiliar in that way at all. I feel like that’s what’s natural. I can push to longer lengths. Seeing the arc of a story and being able to work towards it in a single go is of great appeal to me.
JMW: Okay. You just mentioned your music. I know you’re still very active in that. You’ve got a couple of CDs out. We’re here at the Baltimore Book Festival and they’re here, too. You also have a day job. How do you balance all the different aspects of your life?
Sarah Pinsker: Discipline. I set up routines, and I make sure… That’s how it goes for the stories and the day job, in any case. I make time for writing. It’s hard to balance all three. At this moment, I’m not positive I’m doing a great job of it. When the next album comes out, it’ll probably have to swing towards the music again. Right now, things are swinging towards the fiction, just because it’s been a great couple of years. I do have an album that’s about to come out, and I’m going to have to figure out how to re-balance everything at that point.
JMW: Yeah, it has been a great couple of years. You’ve done close to 20 stories this year already. They’ve all found homes. What’s the secret? I’m asking as a writer here. What’s the secret to writing both fast and well?
Sarah Pinsker: I’m not sure if there is a secret. It’s that consistency of sitting down and working on stories every day, and if something isn’t coming, bouncing to the next story until the other one works out. I’m a great proponent of long dog walks. I run. I used to have a horse that I rode all over Baltimore County that my friend had loaned me. Those are the times when I write. I do all of that in my head, so when I sit down in front of the computer I’m ready to go and I know my plan of attack, whether it’s where to submit, or what revision needs to be done, or what the first draft needs next. If you use your time like that… Commutes are for thinking of things as well. All of that stuff goes into it so you can economize when it comes to actually sitting down and writing, which is the most precious time of all since you have to carve it out.
JMW: Do you get any time to read in all of that?
Sarah Pinsker: I try. I read before bed, and I read while I’m getting ready in the morning, and at lunch. It’s little snippets. I used to like to sit down and devour a book, and now it’s more like a chapter here, a chapter there. I think I’ve read half the books this year that I read last year.
JMW: It’s also something that would seem to go along with short form, because you can read a short story a lot faster than you…
Sarah Pinsker: That’s also helpful. I keep feeling like the short story should be making a comeback some time soon, because it’s so easy to read. I have a couple of friends who read on the bus. They’ll get out a book of short stories and they’ll get on the bus in the morning. They’ll read one story, and they’re done when they get to work. I feel like a lot of people could be doing that. You can read so many magazines on your phone now, and get Kindle subscriptions or waitlist subscriptions. I think there’s a lot to be said for the short story for our busy world also.
[easyazon_block add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”B00004X0GN” cloaking=”default” layout=”top” localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” tag=”buzmag-20″]JMW: We’ve mentioned that you’re a musician. I know that this plays into your writing. I want to know which came first, it’s the chicken or the egg question, the music or the writing?
Sarah Pinsker: To me, they both fall under story telling, which I’m sure my parents would say I was doing at a very young age. Fiction came first in terms of writing writing. I was writing stories when I was five. I went to college thinking that I was going to write. That was my plan. I somehow got derailed and started thinking that I wanted to learn something else. I ended up majoring in history so that I would have something to write about. That was my theory, that if I learned how to research then I would be better able to write.
At the same time, I started playing a lot of music and also decided I would be a rock star. When I graduated, I decided to make music full time instead of write. That was what I concentrated on when I was first getting out of school and thinking about what came next. I did that for a few years.
I guess stories came first first and were my first love, but music has been very good to me. It’s nice to be able to do both and satisfy both things that seem to have all the avenues of story telling available to me that I want.
JMW: Works for me. What was the name of your band?
Sarah Pinsker: My band is called The Stalking Horses.
JMW: Oh, so you’re still in it.
Sarah Pinsker: It’s a different band than the one I was in in college. They’re called The Stalking Horses. We’re not playing a whole lot these days, but we are still around. The nice thing about being in one band for a very long time is that even if you don’t get together for a little while, they’re all great musicians and we just pick it up right where we were.
JMW: Very cool. How do the two disciplines interact, and do they ever get in the way of each other?
Sarah Pinsker: I don’t think they’ve ever gotten in the way. My band might say otherwise, because I’m at a lot of writing conventions these days and S.F. cons, just because of all of the success of the writing this year. I think writing music taught me an economy of words that’s been really useful for writing short stories. I think I can… Having that lyrical punch I think has gotten me into the markets that I really wanted to get into. I have a style that came from my music that interprets well to fiction.
JMW: Very cool. What are you working on now?
Sarah Pinsker: I just sold a novelette I’m very excited about. It’s a big one. I just sold that to Asimov and I’m very excited about that one. I have a few more stories that are getting ready to head out the door.
I always say I’m working on a novel. I am working on a novel, but it’s not where my first attention lies. I sort of work on it, then I play with it in my head. It’s just like with the other stuff where I said I run, and I walk, and I plan stuff in my head. I have everything going, and it will finish at some point, but the stories have to stop getting in the way first.
JMW: You’ve got plenty of time.
Sarah Pinsker: I hope so.
JMW: Anything you’d like to add?
Sarah Pinsker: No, thank you. This has been lovely.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.