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Interview: Richard Paul Russo on "The Second Descent"

Richard Paul Russo–author of “The Second Descent,” which appears in our March 2008 issue–said in an interview that the story was inspired by a poem.

“I was doing a joint reading at the Science Fiction Museum here in Seattle with Marc Laidlaw, and one of the things Marc read that night was a poem called ‘The Second Ascent,'” Russo said. “However, I either misheard the title that night, or misremembered it the following day, because I later thought it was titled ‘The Second Descent.’ I kept thinking about that title over the next couple of weeks, wondering what a second descent of a mountain could mean, and I started to get some vague ideas of writing a story about that. I got in touch with Marc, asked him if he had any plans to turn the poem into a story, and that’s when I learned I had the title wrong–which actually turned out to be a good thing for me, since it got me thinking about a story. Marc had no plans to do anything else with the poem, and encouraged me to go forward with the story.”

Russo had some major challenges writing the story. “First, I wrote about three pages and immediately got stuck. It remained at that stage for well over a year, though I thought about it regularly. Then something clicked and I knew how to resume work on it,” he said. “I wrote about two thirds of the story, and became stuck again. I had the general structure in mind, but I didn’t have a complete grasp of what the story was really about, down deep at its core.”

Then his dog, Sirus, became seriously ill, and Russo had to take him to the Washington State University Veterinary School in Eastern Washington, which is about a six-hour drive from Seattle. “We didn’t know if he would live or die, and I stayed alone in a cheap motel for a week and a half–my wife was in the middle of her audiology internship and couldn’t take time off –while he was taken care of by the neurology resident, as well as other vets and students,” Russo said. “I tried to work on my then current novel project, but it was difficult, and I spent a lot of time thinking about ‘big’ issues: life and death, our place in the world and how we find meaning in our own lives and the lives of others, that kind of thing. One day while I was on a long walk, I suddenly understood what ‘The Second Descent’ was about, and knew how to finish it.”

The current novel project Russo alluded to is a follow-up to his Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel Ship of Fools.


One Response to “Interview: Richard Paul Russo on "The Second Descent"”

  1. Alvaro Zinos-Amaro on March 9th, 2008

    John Joseph Adams,
    Thank you so much for making this interview available. This story is stunning, mesmerizing. Reading about its genesis was fascinating.
    My critical response to “The Second Descent” is captured at
    I’d be curious to know what any other readers made of it :-)
    Thanks again,

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