Exclusive Interview: “Tomorrow Factory” Author Rich Larson
It’s only been three months since writer Rich Larson released his debut novel Annex and already he’s back on shelves with a second book, Tomorrow Factory (hardcover, paperback, Kindle), a collection of his sci-fi short stories. In the following email interview, he discusses how he chose what to include in this collection, how he put the book together, and why he included the literary version of liner notes.
For starters, is there a theme or some other connection between the stories in Tomorrow Factory?
There’s no tight thematic link between the works in Tomorrow Factory. It’s a big book, with the twenty-three stories chosen to give a full sense of the kind of science fiction I like to write. I didn’t include any fantasy, horror, or literary stories, mostly to narrow things down a bit.
Deciding which stories got in and which stories didn’t was tricky, but ultimately enjoyable. Tomorrow Factory is a combination of stories that were well-received — represented in multiple Year’s Bests — and ones that I personally loved but never got much attention because they were published in smaller anthologies or lit mags. Even though only “Circuits” was written specifically for the collection, I’m hopeful that a lot of the stories will be new to readers.
Of course, I had to make a lot of cuts. I was working from a list of around forty science fiction stories that I thought might be worthy of inclusion. Sometimes I found two stories to be too similar to each other in setting or plot execution, and had to pick one over the other. That gave me more empathy for the fiction editors who reject something with the “we bought one just like it last week” excuse.
I’m very happy with the final table of contents, but I’ve also written a few stories since it was finalized that I think are some of my very best. So, hopefully there’s another collection in my future a few years down the road.
Cool. And does Tomorrow Factory have some kind of connective tissue or framing device like what Ray Bradbury did in The Illustrated Man?
There’s no connective tissue or framing device, but I tried to arrange the stories in such a way that they flow together well and work as a whole. First, I evaluated whether stories were more action or emotion-oriented, if they had humor elements, and if their endings were bleak, heartwarming, or the most coveted status: extremely satisfying. Then I clustered the stories according to feel — more action and suspense over here, more slow and character-driven over there — and used flash pieces as palate cleansers in between the groups. Varying the lengths was important, as was making sure there weren’t too many depressing endings in a row. The two stories that I felt had extremely satisfying endings served as bookends to the collection.
As you said, the stories in Tomorrow Factory are science fiction. But do any fall into subgenres of sci-fi, or combinations of them?
They’re all science fiction, but they run the gamut. There’s post-apocalypse, space opera, far-future posthumanism, near-future techno-crime, military SF, climate fic, time travel, cyberpunk homage, etc.
Now, normally my next two questions would be about the stories, movies, TV shows, and games that had an influence on the stories in Tomorrow Factory. But you actually talk about this stuff in your author’s notes at the back of the book, which is something authors don’t usually include in their short story collections. Why did you decide to include these annotations?
As a kid I was always a big fan of special features on DVDs, where you get to see the making of and hear director’s commentary and whatnot. I thought it would be cool to do a bit of that for my book.
With the exception of “Circuits,” all of the stories in Tomorrow Factory were published elsewhere first. “An Evening With Severyn Grimes” was included in both The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection and The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 3, while “I Went To The Asteroid To Bury You” and “Capricorn” previously appeared in the magazine Abyss & Apex. But are the versions inTomorrow Factory the same as those versions or did you change anything about them?
Some little things did change as I was going through the stories, mostly word choices and comma placements. I also changed the name of a handgun in one story because I realized I had recycled it into another story with a wildly different setting. Proofing the collection was a nice opportunity to make sure people were getting the best possible version of every story. Though if I read them again I’m sure I’ll find more tweaks to be made, as ever.
One story you didn’t include in Tomorrow Factory is “Mother Mother” which, in the previous interview we did [which you can read here], you said was expanded upon to become your novel Annex. Why did you decide to not include “Mother Mother” in Tomorrow Factory? Or does it not even exist as a short story anymore?
It was actually a point on the novel contract that none of the short stories in Tomorrow Factorycould be related to Annex— this is because the books are being put out by two separate publishers. The short story still exists as a chapter inside the novel, and also as an excerpt published in the August issue of Clarkesworld [which you can read here].
Speaking of Annex, real quick, so people know, what is that novel about?
Annexis about kids fighting aliens, but also about loyalty, family, and outsiderhood.
Are there any stories in Tomorrow Factory that you think would really appeal to people who enjoyed Annex…and vice versa, of course?
You know, Annex is actually pretty distinct from the stories in Tomorrow Factory. It’s set in present day — or, I guess, fifteen minutes into the future — and has young protagonists. But people who like Gloom from Annex might also like Mu from “Circuits,” and “Edited” has a character named Wyatt who will seem somewhat familiar to the novel readers as well.
And how are things going with the sequel to Annex? Do you have a title? A release date?
Things are going a little better right now, right now meaning early September [of 2018]. I’m still struggling with it. The first draft is going to be a mess, and I need to have it cleaned up for the publisher by the end of October. The title is Cypher and the release date is probably next summer if all goes well.
Anyway, going back to Tomorrow Factory: Something else you included is a dedication to the late Gardner Dozois, who edited The Year’s Best Science Fiction series, which included your Tomorrow Factory stories “Meshed” in the Thirty-Third Annual Collection, “Innumerable Glimmering Lights” in Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection, and, as I mentioned, “Grimes” in theThirty-Fifth Annual Collection. Aside from being supportive, how else do you think Dozois impacted your writing and the stories in Tomorrow Factory?
I think being supportive is one of the most impactful things you can do for a young writer, and Gardner was that from the very start. When he asked for reprint rights to my 2014 story “God Decay” for his Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Second Annual Collection, and I realized he was the guy from those massive collections I had so often flipped through in bookstores as a kid, it was a watershed moment for my career.
Over the next three years, Gardner took six more of my stories for his Year’s Best anthologies. He invited me to write a fantasy caper for his Book Of Swords anthology, putting me in the same table of contents as Garth Nix and George R.R. Martin. He reviewed dozens of my stories in Locus Magazine, constantly championing my work to readers who might have otherwise never taken a second glance. He provided Tomorrow Factory‘s cover blurb.
Outside of his role as an editor, Gardner was kind and very generous with his time. He gave me advice on pursuing a career in fiction and on publishing my first collection. When I got an offer from Talos Press, he was one of the first to know. His casual and constant confidence in my abilities gave me confidence in them too. I can’t come close to repaying Gardner for everything he did for me, but I’m really glad I can dedicate Tomorrow Factory to his memory.
Earlier we talked about how you noted the movies, TV shows, and video games that had an impact on the stories in Tomorrow Factory in the book itself. But has there been any interest in adapting any of these stories into movies, shows, or games?
I think I’m allowed to tell you that I’ve sold the film option for one of the stories, “Atrophy,” to Warner Bros. It mostly happened while I was in Portugal, which meant a lot of negotiating time zone differences to set up poorly-connected conference calls with excitable people in L.A.
I’ve had option interest before, but this was the first time it went anywhere, probably thanks to my excellent film agent, Flora Hackett, who found me after reading my wendigo story “Dark War Heart” online [which you can read here]. She asked my book agent for a copy of Tomorrow Factory and fell in love with “Atrophy” in particular, then shopped it around to a whole shitload of producers.
I got to talk on the phone with that guy from Parks And Recreation and his wife, both of whom struck me as very chill and lovely. I got to talk to people from Amblin Entertainment and people from Scott Free Productions. In the end the option went to Sue Kroll and Warner Bros, which I’m really happy with.
Flora is now negotiating a TV deal for Annex, but nothing’s signed yet. Fingers crossed.
And do you have any ideas who they should cast in the main roles for whatever “Atrophy” becomes?
No idea. Haven’t given it a lick of thought, Paul. I know the chances of it actually becoming a movie are very slim, since most options remain only options, so I won’t dream too big.
Finally, if someone enjoys Tomorrow Factory, they should probably read Annex. But once they’ve done that, what sci-fi short story collection of someone else’s would you suggest they read?
I’d recommend reading Gardner Dozois’s When The Great Days Come. By the time I came around Gardner was more famous for editing than writing, but he wrote like gangbusters.