You always remember your first time.
My first short story — “Madre de Dios” — came about through what might be called an act of spousal self-defense, although he wasn’t quite my spouse at the time.
It was 1986. I had just moved to the SF Bay Area. After a decade of working as a journalist–a newspaper reporter and, later, senior editor at an art magazine–I had kissed my old life goodbye, quit my job, sold my house, got a divorce and was trying to find my balance in a new place, in a new relationship, and a new career. Challenging, to say the least.
I was surprised when Bob suggested that I write a short story. “You’ve read enough of mine,” he said, as though that were sufficient apprenticeship.
Intrigued, dubious, and sort of desperate, I reread some of my favorite short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, Avram Davidson, Fritz Leiber, and Bob, watching the masters at work. Who was I kidding?
But, determined to give it a try, I sat down and scratched out a very loose outline, drawing upon time spent in Paraguay and Brazil in the early 1980s. Slowly I began to craft a tale that reflected the powerful grip of religion on South America, the dependence of the peasants on tourism, and the resulting culture clashes, with an sf-nal sting in its tail. Emboldened by ignorance and naivete, buoyed by Bob’s confidence, I blundered on, word by hard-won word. This fiction thing was grueling work.
My journalistic training served me well in the descriptive and expository areas but hindered me when it came to being expansive and, God help us, colorful. I’d been trained to write a concise, neutral sentence. Just the facts, please. Fiction, I realized, was a different animal. You made up the facts. The writer couldn’t lean on reality to provide the information. Fiction was therefore more demanding, and yet potentially much freer. The only limits were one’s own imagination and technical skill.
I wrote draft after draft, wondering what I had gotten myself into. Bob read each one, probably wondering something similar. He told me what I was doing wrong–ouch–but also what was right. You could say that I trained in a very tough school where I was the only student. Slowly the tale took shape. I was determined to at least finish the thing as best I could even if I never wrote another word of fiction again
Neither of us really expected that I would sell the very first story I wrote to The Magazine of F & SF, much less that I would go on over the next 27 years to write and sell 50+ stories to markets as diverse as Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Science Fiction Age, and anthologies edited by Neil Gaiman and Martin H. Greenberg. Nor that I would also write and publish 9 novels, 2 books of nonfiction, and edit a Hugo-nominated essay collection.
As I hold my first short story collection in my hands, I think: What I need is a time machine–preferably the elaborate gilded model from the 1960 movie with Rod Taylor. I’d ride it back to 1986 where I could present this volume to that younger, more insecure me. Time-travel paradoxes aside, I can tell you how she would react: she simply wouldn’t believe it.
About the Author:
Karen Haber is the author of nine novels, including Star Trek Voyager: Bless the Beasts, and co-author of Science of the X-Men. She is a Hugo Award nominee, nominated for Meditations on Middle Earth, an essay collection celebrating J.R.R. Tolkien. Her newest book, The Sweet Taste of Regret, a collection of short fiction, was just published by ReAnimus Press.
Her recent publications include The Mutant Season series, the Woman Without A Shadow series, Masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy Art, and Transitions: Todd Lockwood, a book-length retrospective of the artist’s work.
Her short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and many anthologies. New stories will be appearing in the upcoming Unidentified Funny Objects 3 edited by Alex Shvartsman and in The Madness of Cthulhu edited by S.T. Joshi. With Robert Silverberg, she co-edited Best Science Fiction of 2001, 2002, and the Best Fantasy of 2001 and 2002. Later she co-edited the series with Jonathan Strahan through 2004. She reviews art books for Locus Magazine. She lives in Oakland, California, with her husband, Robert Silverberg and three cats.
Visit her website at http://karenhaber.com/.