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Author Interview: Caroline Yoachim
2018-09-25 · by Natalia Theodoridou
tagged Blog / Interviews
Hugo and three-time Nebula Award finalist Caroline M. Yoachim is a prolific author of short stories, appearing in Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, and Lightspeed, among other places. Her debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories, came out in 2016. Caroline is the author of our September game, Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station. Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0.
This interview was conducted via e-mail in September 2018.
sub-Q Magazine: Hello! How are you? How was Worldcon?
Caroline Yoachim: Hello! In the time it has taken me to answer the interview questions, summer has shifted to fall, and Worldcon already seems a long way off. It was a busy convention for me, but a good one. I was on a nice mix of panels and readings, and I enjoyed attending the Hugo ceremony with friends, many of whom were also nominees. I had wonderful conversations with far too many people to name. A full con report is a bit much for one interview, but one particularly memorable moment for me was meeting George RR Martin at the Hugo Losers party. We had a brief conversation:
me: “I’m one of tonight’s Hugo Losers.”
GRRM: “What was your category?”
me: “Short story.”
GRRM: “I lost short story back in 1974. Who did you lose to?”
me: “Rebecca Roanhorse.”
GRRM: I lost to Ursula K. LeGuin. I only lose to the best.”
I also lose to the best, and I look forward to seeing what Rebecca Roanhorse does from here. I hope to someday sit at a Hugo Losers party and console future finalists with the story of the time I lost to her in the short story category, way back in 2018.
sub-Q: “Welcome to the Medical Clinic…” subverts the CYOA format to play not with choice but with futility. Why did you decide to tell the story this way?
Caroline: At the time I wrote this story, I was getting allergy shots once or twice a week in hopes of treating my seasonal allergies. Immunotherapy works by injecting a very small dose of the thing you are allergic to and gradually increasing that dose. For safety, patients stay in a waiting room at the clinic for 30-60 minutes after each shot. So basically: I spent a lot of time in a clinic waiting room with giant itchy welts on my arm where I’d had the shot.
In the end, I turned out not to be a good candidate for allergy shots–I had too many severe reactions and had to stop getting shots before I reached the level where they would help with my allergy symptoms. The shots had been time consuming and sometimes painful, but ultimately, futile. And that struck me as a good starting point for a medical humor story.
sub-Q: What’s your relationship with humour?
Caroline: I don’t write a whole lot of humor, and for a long time I assumed I wasn’t any good at it. The main reason I got into it was that Alex Shvartsman started his UFO (Unidentified Funny Objects) series of humor SFF anthologies, and he mentioned that the people who think they aren’t good at humor often write funnier stories than the people who think they’re good at it. So I decided to try my hand at it, and I wrote a flash story (“Carla at the Off-Planet Tax Return Helpline”) which appeared in UFO3.
“Welcome to the Medical Clinic…” has a few references to that earlier humor story, ranging from the title (Interplanetary Relay Station can be shortened to IRS) to the aliens (the Tarmandian Spacemite appears in both stories).
sub-Q: You have published extensively in multiple genres and styles. Is this sort of versatility something you cultivate, or are you wired this way?
Caroline: Both! I like to chase down shiny new ideas, but I also think it is good for me to actively try to stretch myself. One lovely thing about short stories is that you can try a lot of things, and if you fail you’re only out a few thousand words. This gives me a lot of freedom to experiment with structure, content, and style. . . .and it keeps me from getting bored.
sub-Q: What are your goals when you start writing a story?
Caroline: On a practical level, my goal when I start writing a story is to get it onto the page fast enough that it stays shiny and interesting. I have a tendency to get tired of stories if I work on them too long, and to lose some of the threads/arcs that were in my head when I started. If I can get the story out quickly, writing is fun. If I can’t, writing becomes something of a slog.
In terms of what I want to accomplish with the story itself, that varies from one story to the next. Usually I have an idea that I particularly want to highlight–I’m definitely a concept writer, not a character writer. Once I have my core concept, I’ll think about what emotions I want to evoke, and how I can tie specific story events into a broader theme. Mostly, though, my goal is to write something that resonates with readers–to make people laugh or cry or think about something in a way they hadn’t before.
sub-Q: What do you do for fun?
Caroline: My main creative pursuit, outside of writing, is photography–mostly nature and macro photography. Much like writing, I tend to go through phases with my photography. Currently I’m taking a lot of photos of flowers and plants. In the past I’ve been more focused on food. At one point I did a series of photography projects with gummy bears, including creating a gummy bear tarot deck.
I also love board games, Doctor Who, cooking/chef documentaries, and Broadway musicals.
sub-Q: What’s next for you? Any plans, plugs, recommendations?
Caroline: I’ve been focused on longer stories lately–currently I’m about midway through writing a novella. I do have a couple of shorter pieces coming out in the near future. First is my short story “The Clockwork Penguin Dreamed of Stars,” which will be out in November in Mechanical Animals (edited by Selena Chambers and Jason Heller).
I also have a novelette coming out in Lightspeed early next year called “The Archronology of Love.” It has a concept that I really love–a twist on archaeology where instead of digging through layers of dirt the characters have found a way to dig through layers of time. It also has aliens and a mysterious plague that kills off a colony planet. . . and at the core of it all is a love story.