Interview 2 with Michael Livingston

Michael Livingston’s short story, Catch of the Day, appears in the Winter 2007 issue of Shimmer. To learn more about Michael, visit his website.


Where did the idea come from?
One afternoon, a few years ago, I wrote a vignette in which I tried to convey the thrill of fly-fishing. It was just a little thing — still visible if you look just at the experiential parts of the final narrative. I more or less forgot about it until recently, when I found myself stuck on another writing project. Wanting to work on something fresh to recharge my batteries, I pulled The Fishing Trip(as it was then titled) out of the archives and decided to give it a make-over.

How did the story change as you developed it?
The obvious change was to work my vignette into a “first contact” story. After that, I started submitting it.

You know the advice “Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.” Was there a scene or line that it really hurt to cut, but cutting it made the story stronger?
It’s rare that I end up cutting things — contrary to that old writing proverb. Some folks work on the -10% rule, cutting 10% out of a work once it’s finished to make it tight and neat. I’m more likely to work on the +10% rule, writing too subtle in my first pass.

In this case, Shimmer’s loving editors felt my first contact tale lacked conflict. So I sat down to put it through a third rewriting (rare for me) in an effort to add a bit more bing-bang-boom to it. It was my intention, first and foremost, to add the framing narrative of the interrogation. This was a vital alteration, I felt, as it allowed much more characterization of the narrator. Once that was established, I set about rewriting the conclusion of the piece, going for a bit more punch, a bit more payoff. My plan was to have the alien heal our dear Doctor Harris of his infertility — even if it meant the inclusion of some sort of joke about erectile dysfunction, though I hoped it would never come to such lengths. (bada-bing!)

Anyway, I found that this original plan of de-infertilization still lacked the ooomph I was looking for. It was okay, but something about it was a bit too happy la-la-land for me. I wanted more complication. Thankfully, I found that with a pinch and a tweak I could take the de-infertilization in a slightly different direction: the hydran impregnates the narrator.

It was at this point that I went back through the whole story, changing the narrator to a woman in order to make this impregnation gambit seem a bit more real. But, alas, the change in gender seemed to cause more problems than it solved since I had to grapple with too many other questions at that point — e.g., why is she the fisherperson, and not her husband? So back to a man, with his wife on the shore.

The end result? An additional 2000 words, if I recall rightly.

One other point in this regard is that in my resubmit I *did* try to kill a darling — the final 700 words of the tale. What I sent back to the editors ended at the man in black’s pronouncement to Doctor Harris that they would “both” be okay — and Harris’ wife, too. It seemed to me that everything after that (the extended ending) was just beating the reader down. Shimmer’s editors, however, disagreed. Finding out about the longer ending (and reading it) finally convinced them to buy the piece.

How is this story like your other work? How is it different?
Fewer gnomes, more fishes. (Duh.)
Seriously, if you want to get a feel for my work, check out my website.


How long had you been submitting before you made your first sale?
A year maybe. Probably less. I’m not sure, exactly.

Do you work with a critique or writers group?
I critiqued a few things with a writers’ group, but that was very much the exception rather than the rule. And I don’t really do it anymore.

What authors, if any, have had the most influence on your work?
Among current writers, Dan Simmons, Umberto Eco, and Parke Godwin come to mind.

Favorite short story you’ve read recently?
Hmmm… a toss-up: The Ninth of Av, by Dan Simmons (in the collection WORLDS ENOUGH AND TIME), or Blackberry Witch, by Scott Roberts (in WRITERS OF THE FUTURE XXI).


Do you believe in ghosts or the supernatural? Why?
I almost wrote “Yes, I believe in God,” but then I realized that nothing could be more natural than God. So … “No.”

Fast food: Yea or Nay?
Yea. With a guilt-driven jog later that night.

Name one place in your hometown that you love to go to and would recommend to others to visit.
It ain’t my hometown, but here in Charleston I’d recommend visiting The Battery. The depth of the history is astonishing, and it also happens to be extraordinarily beautiful.

Is there anything that you would “sell your soul” for?
Not to be boring, but hell no.

Do you have a secret skill that you never get to show off? (i.e. ambidextrous writing, blood-curdling screams, double-jointed, badminton champion…)
Not that I can tell anyone about, no.

Quiz: How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb? Please explain your answer:
As a writer, I refuse to rewrite my previous answer to this question. I was clear before, damnit. I owe the reader nothing! Nothing!

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