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31 July 2001



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Andy Duncan Takes Off! August 2001

Andy Duncan attended Clarion West in 1994, studied creative writing at North Carolina State University under John Kessel and earned his MA in 1995, and completed his MFA in fiction in 2000. He was a finalist in 1998 both for the Hugo Award (for his first sale, short story "Beluthahatchie") and for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Later novellas ‘‘The Executioners’ Guild’’ and ‘‘Fortitude’’ (both 1999) were Nebula finalists (in 2000 and 2001). His first book, collection Beluthahatchie and Other Stories, was published in 2000. He lives with his wife in Northport, Alabama.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘The Clarion West experience was an amazingly positive one for me. I know it’s not true for everybody, and I am very cautious about recommending it too indiscriminately. The biggest single factor in whether or not you have a good experience is who your fellow classmates are, and that’s purely the luck of the draw. If, as I was, you’re with a great group that’s very harmonious, and everybody is supportive, and it has some really first-rate talents, then it can be wonderful, but if any of those things don’t magically happen....

Photo by Beth Gwinn

Official web page:
Andy Duncan

It really does shut some people down terribly, even some of the most celebrated alums, like Octavia Butler and Stan Robinson. When I was interested in applying, John Kessel took me into his office and quizzed me for about 45 minutes. It was nothing about my writing -- he knew about my writing. He quizzed me about psychological things: Why did I want to go? What was I expecting to get out of it? How did I deal with criticism or classroom situations? And all these hypotheticals. When he was done, he said, ‘OK, I think you can go to Clarion.’ But my impression was, if I had not answered those questions to his satisfaction, he would have said, ‘You shouldn’t go.’ It’s not for every aspiring writer, but it transformed me, it made me feel very much like a professional. I came back and took a subscription to Locus that week!’’


‘‘I’m proud of my novella ‘The Chief Designer’. It’s sort of a secret history of the Russian space program, so it’s about as far from a Southern voice as you could get. But if you look at it in the context of all my other stories, it has in common the things that are more important to me than just the region or the accent.

‘‘For one thing, history is vitally important. I love what Phil Klass said about how history is ‘the real science of science fiction.’ That quote really struck me. It just made perfect sense, the more I thought about it, and it has helped give me strength to keep dealing with history. Some folks think science fiction is supposed to be the future, always looking ahead. But it’s all about history -- future history or alternate history or transplanted history -- and we keep looking behind. There’s so much retro and historical stuff being written, some argue that’s a sign of decay in the field, or we’re in the end times of science fiction. I don’t agree. I think the future is going to be a lot like the past, rather than this entirely discordant break with everything we’ve done before. There is a great, almost mystical, yearning on our part for a Singularity to come around, but I don’t foresee it happening. All these innovations, all these new things we’re going to be implementing, are going to be implemented by the same old human beings that have been designing and implementing them all along, for good and for ill. I agree with Connie Willis and Orson Scott Card -- he says, in a thousand years it’s not like we’ve discovered any new ways to be happy, enthusiastic, new ways to be cruel, new ways to be selfish, unconcerned about our fellow human beings.’’


‘‘When you put some familiar thing in an unfamiliar environment, or put two thoughts that do not seem related right up against one another and see that they are related, things get very interesting. My story in Starlight 3, ‘Senator Bilbo’, came about because I noticed some time ago that the name of one of the South’s most infamous demagogues and racists was the same name as the kindly halfling hero in Tolkien. That made me think, again, ‘somebody’s done this already,’ but apparently not.’’

The full interview, and bibliographic profile, is published in the August 2001 issue of Locus Magazine.


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