I had a nice chat with author Aimee Picchi, so nice in fact, that I felt compelled to share with y’all.
SM: Thank you for doing this interview, Aimee. Tell our readers a little about yourself!
AP: In a nutshell, I’m a business journalist who used to be a classical musician, and, when quite young, believed Narnia was a real place. I’m only sort of kidding about the last item.
When it comes to fiction, I fall into the late bloomer category. While I’ve always written short stories as well as nonfiction, I didn’t start submitting until about three years ago. That was when I had the realization that since I preferred to read fantasy and science fiction, I should write in the genre instead of literary-type fiction. Then things started to click for me.
Before going into journalism, I was a classical music geek. In high school, I attended the Juilliard Pre-College program and then graduated from the Eastman School of Music with a bachelor of music. I play the viola, and yes, I enjoy a good viola joke, although I may have heard them all by now. I still play, and take lessons with a talented teacher.
Since Sept. 2013, I have been a slush reader at Clarkesworld, which has been a great experience.
My husband, two daughters and I moved to Burlington, Vermont from New York City several years ago, and I now own cross-country skis and a good pair of snow boots.
SM: Death Comes For The Microbot was a huge hit for FFO. Congratulations! Please tell us how you came up with the story!
AP: Thanks! The story came out of a short-story class that I took with Cat Rambo, who had us brainstorm several titles within three minutes. This is a great exercise for anyone who needs to get their creative juices oozing, by the way.
The title came to mind as an homage to “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” a novel by Willa Cather that tracks two long-time friends, a bishop and a vicar, as they travel through New Mexico. But by the end of the book, the pair are old, and death arrives. It’s a very moving novel, written in a simple, straightforward style. (As a side note, I grew up in a Willa Cather-focused house, as my mom is a lifelong fan and even bought and restored house in Cather’s hometown, Red Cloud, Nebraska, that was featured in her novel “My Antonia.”)
When I started thinking about the title, I focused on the themes it suggested: technology, something both independent and advanced, yet small and fragile; and death, that huge, inescapable force.
From there, I imagined the bots: a set of insect-inspired creatures, both analogous to the natural world yet foreign to it. I wondered what it would be like for those bots to encounter their ends; what it would be like to face obsolescence for a creature that’s not quite alive, yet sentient. What would be important for those creatures?
SM: On your blog you mentioned that the story changed a lot as you were going through drafts. Can you walk us through the changes that have been made?
After I wrote the first draft, my writing group critiqued it, offering a lot of helpful advice that shaped the next drafts of the story. While the basic bones were there in the first draft, it had issues ranging from length (it was too long to be flash) to characterization. The doctor, for one, was a lot less sympathetic in the first draft, which took the focus away from the microbots and the meat of the story.
The title also changed after receiving feedback, with my writing group pointing out that the initial title — “Death Comes from the Nanobot” — didn’t really work because Bee and Cricket were too large to be nanobots. Suzanne Vincent, the editor of Flash Fiction Online, also had some helpful suggestions about the clarifying the tech that brought the story into final shape for publication.
Flash fiction offers a creative challenge to writers almost like no other: how to create a complete story, with a strong arc, that also hits an emotional core within no more than 1,000 words.
SM: Sentient robots or nanomachines and their humanity are often explored in science fiction, but your story is remarkably short, yet poignant. Emotional pay-off is important in flash fiction. How did you make Bee such a relatable character?
AP: The key to Bee was its childlike approach to its world. That’s one reason why so many robot stories are loved by readers; think of Wall-E, another innocent machine that is eager to make a connection and is trying to make sense of what’s going on around it. Robots can also lack the baggage that humans lug around; in my story’s case, I wanted the microbots to be genderless, wiping away another layer of preconceptions about male/female roles.
SM: You are a Viable Paradise workshop alumna. Can you share some of the wisdom you learned at the workshop?
AP: Tying back to the previous question, Steve Brust at Viable Paradise offered some excellent advice about how to make your character sympathetic. First, make your character like someone else; and secondly, if your character has a problem, don’t let her complain. Bee certainly hit those two marks, with its fondness for Cricket and Moth and its stoicism in the face of wing failure.
Viable Paradise was an amazing experience, and there was so much information and advice provided that I am still digesting it. But one point that Uncle Jim and the crew were clear in getting across is that writers should not make the mistake of rejecting themselves by failing to submit. That’s up to the editors (and slush readers) to do. Steve Gould also talked with us about what writers can control (their craft, for instance) and what they can’t (success, fame, and fortune). The week was a great mix of writing, workshops, lectures on craft and life, and meeting other writers, and I recommend it for anyone who is seeking that type of intense workshop.
SM: Please recommend us a writer or book that needs more exposure.
AP: This is a hard one, because the writers who are well known in the SFF world, such as Cat Rambo (whose fiction is truly fantastic and I heartily recommend) can always be better known by the wider reading world.
SM: Do you have any other projects or stories you would like to plug?
AP: I have a short story coming out in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine in June. The story is called “Frank Discussions with your Genie,” and ties in Ms. Pac-Man, an absent father, a genie at the Atlantic ocean, and letter writing.
SM: Where can people find you online?
AP: I’m active on Twitter at @aimeepicchi and I’m not very active on my website, https://aimeepicchi.wordpress.com/
SM: Thank you for your time, Aimee!
AP: Thanks, Stefan!