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Conversation with Harvey Bly

Harvey interrogates the effects of climate change on mental health, personal rejections from magazines, World Fantasy Convention, and the importance of writing and editing a complete story before serializing it.

Conversation with Harvey Bly

Harvey Bly is a transgender human man. He is not a creature from the ether. Bly writes science fiction because his Earthling companions (cats) like to watch the cursor blink on his computer screen. You can find him on Instagram @storiesbybly.

Harvey is the author of “Base Bioform” from Radon Issue 6.

Q: Where did you get your idea for the Skydotians in "Base Bioform"?

The US agricultural sector transformed its concept of ecological responsibility during the great American dust bowl. I’ve always been interested in historical responses to ecological catastrophe, and at the end of last year I read the books The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, and The Heat will Kill You First by Jeff Godell back-to-back. I was searching for a hopeful angle in the wake of those reads, and what I found was this:

Capitalism’s most reliable failing is that it ignores the undiscriminating brutality of the natural world. Given that we don’t have anywhere else in the cosmos to go, humanity is accountable to this celestial body (whether we treat it as such or not).

But what if we weren’t? “Base Bioform” is a larger-scale imagining of the destruction of wildlife that the corporate world is committing right now.

Q: Is climate change and the shifting world often on your mind?

Yes, constantly. I was an anxious child, so climate change has loomed in the back of my mind for as long as I can remember. I found this concept much more manageable to reckon with after reading “Solastalgia,” an anthology edited by Paul Bogard.

My day job is in the mental health field, so a big part of what I do is constantly consider Why go on living? And discuss my thoughts with people who need support. Across the board, everyone I speak with factors climate change into their answer. I think that every subsequent generation’s fates will grow increasingly entwined with the fate of the planet.

Q: What is your experience with NaNoWriMo?

I was sixteen the first time I participated in NaNo and I have participated on and off in the decade since then. I use it as a tool to motivate me to generate a story seed, not to pressure myself to meet a word count goal. Any opportunity to feel like a failure in writing is an opportunity I don’t care about. So, I like that NaNo has a really positive and encouraging atmosphere.

In 2014, when I started out with NaNo’s Young Writers’ Program, they did an effective and earnest job of keeping me safe on their platform. The Internet was a safer place all around, back then. With eroding Internet privacy, a transformation in the role of tech in youth’s lives, and predatory AI practices, things are different now. I think youth should be mindful of the fact that Internet safety as it existed in the past, is gone. Increasingly, digital platforms put the onus of personal safety on children and teens themselves, and I don’t agree with that.

Q: What is your opinion on personal rejections from magazines? For or against?

I love that there is space for both in the market, and I think we would be missing out if one system or the other went extinct. I see it as a structural decision that editing teams make based on what they need to do to keep their publication running, and the role they want in the writing community.

Personal rejections can be exceptionally helpful, but anyone putting too much stake in them risks sacrificing their unique voice. Personal rejections are nice ego boosts, but I take them with the same stake I take beta readers: I consider the feedback and decide whether the changes suggested are consistent with the story I want to tell.

Publications that do not provide personal rejections often have a much faster turnaround, and some tend to be more resilient to staffing changes. I think of Clarkesworld here, and Neil Clarke’s article on this topic is what helped me understand how essential it is to have publications that aren’t giving feedback in rejections.

Q: What caused you to start a new novel from scratch in 2023?

I lost faith in my ability to do justice to the manuscript I started in 2022. After very helpful feedback from beta readers, I was telling friends:

“I realized I didn’t write the novel I meant to write, because I wasn’t wise enough to write it yet. So, I need to wait until I am.”

That was one part cop-out, two parts keeping myself busy until I knew where I wanted to take the original manuscript. I’m really in love with the story I started in 2022. I’m back to work on it now and nearing the halfway point to querying.

Starting from scratch was important in the process, because nothing else could show me that I wouldn’t be ready to wholeheartedly focus on another novel until I finished this one. Apparently, that means wising up instead of waiting for wisdom.

Q: What is your preferred method for writing out notes and story beats for your stories?

I write scene by scene, and I go chronologically unless and until something out of order strikes my fancy. This method is chaos: drafting and franken-drafting until I have something that looks like structure, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it. I find it thrilling that even I don’t know how the story is going to end until it is in its polished final draft.

Q: What was it like for you at World Fantasy Convention?

It was amazing. I got to see the iconic Naseem Jaminia ensure that the conference panels acknowledged the ongoing genocide in Palestine. I got to talk with Marie Brennan about integrating niche-knowledge into genre fiction. I witnessed the absolute power couple that is Carlos Hernandez and C.S.E Clooney. And I got a whole weekend to bask in awe and wonder of the cosmos with other SFF authors doing the same. The panels were wonderful crucibles for considering short story concepts and manuscript revisions, and I highly recommend going for anyone who has access/resources to do so.

Q: Tell us about your sci-fi serial called Suckers?

This question jumpscared me so bad. Suckers is a monument to my own hubris which I leave online to prevent me from believing I can self-publish a serial before writing and editing the whole piece. I still really like the basic concept: vampires survive the nuclear apocalypse and find the billionaires who fled the planet as their only company in the fallout. I toy with rewriting it regularly, but I promise to myself and the general public not to re-release unless and until a new draft is complete (in total and complete totality and completion).

Q: What are your strategies for overcoming the blank cursor on a screen that all writers curse?

You won’t be able to torture my old handle out of me, but I will say that by far the most effective thing for me to do for writer’s block is to return to what I was writing when I first fell in love with fiction. For me this meant revisiting the fanfiction I wrote in high school, and the books I tried to write in middle and grade school. I hadn’t discovered the sci-fi genre quite yet, and taking my work out of that context helped me realize that what I want to write about most is interpersonal relationships and existential reflections on the meaning of the self.

Writing keeps me sane, so if I’m not able to get through writer’s block by taking a break, or giving myself permission to be silly, then it’s my brain and body trying to tell me that something in my life more generally needs to change.

Q: A fresh and emerging voice in the science fiction scene, where do you want to go from here?

My next goal is to wrap up and query agents with my manuscript these next six months.

More broadly, my goal in writing is to pursue the Sisyphean task of being understood and understanding others. Camus said, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy,” and it makes me the happiest of Sisyphuses (Sisyphes?) to wade through the quagmire of the human experience like a cool lake on a hot day.

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