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Interview: Molly Gloss on “The Everlasting Humming of the Earth”

Molly GlossTell us a bit about “The Everlasting Humming of the Earth.”

Joyce is a woman who has an unusual *gift*:  She can feel a tremor in her body when a major earthquake is about to happen somewhere in the world—but she cannot know where in the world the quake will strike.  This means, even if she could persuade everyone that she’s not a crackpot or a nut, she’s helpless to give any sort of useful warning—what good is it to have advance warning of a quake if you can’t say where it will strike?  It’s a story about dealing with the burden of helpless knowledge; and also a story about a middle-aged woman dealing with loss and grief, and finding community.


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I live in Oregon, close to the Pacific Subduction Zone, where it’s generally thought that The Big One is already overdue. So earthquakes were on my mind even before I began reading about the continuous sound the Earth makes, a kind of humming, below the level humans can hear but picked up on scientific listening devices; and reading theories that this might be the sound of the globe turning, or the continuous swish and sway of the world’s oceans. And that the sound changes during and after an earthquake, as if the whole Earth is reverberating like a struck bell.  I began to wonder, what if a human could hear the humming of the earth, and the reverberations of an earthquake? Then what? And how would that person deal with the knowledge?


Was “The Everlasting Humming of the Earth” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

The horse who appears late in the story represents my own experience of horses acting as empathetic listeners to one’s troubles…does that count as “personal”? And there’s the Pacific Subduction thing—I travel with a fully-stocked preparedness kit in my car and another in my house, enough to survive without outside help for up to three weeks. Oh, I’m ready!


Was there any aspect of this story that you found difficult to write?

From a writerly standpoint, do you mean?  I struggled, a bit, figuring out where the pieces of Joyce’s backstory ought to go. I tried scattering them throughout the story at first, and then decided to front-load most of it. But I held back one piece—the scene in which her husband learns the source of her tremors—until very late, when the memory is triggered by something Raylene says.  Finding just the right place for it was like turning a particular piece of a jigsaw puzzle, trying and trying until your eye lights on a subtle variation of color and shape, and suddenly you can see where it needs to go.


Why do you write?

Ha ha! I imagine almost everyone has the same answer to this question. I write because I can’t NOT write. Oh, and of course I write to be read.  There is a kind of magic in storytelling, no? Immaterial words creating worlds that do not exist in our ordinary reality, people and sometimes places that are alive only in story. And we write to share those worlds, the worlds of our imagination, beaming them, in a way, from the mind of the writer to the mind of the reader. Magic. That’s why I write.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear me say Ursula K. Le Guin has always been a model for me, especially in science fiction, and especially for showing me that the science in science fiction need not always be physics or chemistry but could be centered in biology, or in the human sciences—sociology, psychology, anthropology.  But of course there are many other writers who’ve influenced my writing—too many to name; I’ll just call out Willa Cather and A.B. Guthrie, Jr., for showing me what Western writing could aspire to be.


You’ve been a published writer for more than thirty years: how have you noticed the industry change, and how has it had an impact on your work? 

The publishing world has changed dramatically since I began writing seriously in the 1980s. In those days (and when did I get old enough to use the phrase “in those days…”?)  much more of the marketing and publicity effort for a book was done by the publisher;  now the burden is largely on the writer. I’d never heard “platform,” or “brand” mentioned in connection with writing until a few years ago;  and now a writer’s social media presence is the primary focus of marketing.  And of course there are many fewer newspapers reviewing books now, reviews having become primarily the province of GoodReads and book bloggers and readers commenting on Amazon.  But there have been some very good changes as well—lots of thriving magazines, both print and on-line, especially in the science fiction and fantasy realm—and many of them are still reviewing books (F&SF!).  And with social media there’s more direct communication (if you wish it) between writers and readers, and which I do love. None of this has had an impact on what I write, I have always just written the stories that I wanted to read. But I do feel a bit at sea when it comes to the marketing piece of the puzzle. I’m comfortable tweeting good news, announcing an upcoming publication, and so forth, but beyond that I’m not very savvy about strategies that might draw in more readers. One thing that hasn’t changed:  the joy of seeing my work in print!  Magic!


“The Everlasting Humming of the Earth” appears in the July/August 2019 issue of F&SF.

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Molly Gloss has three reprint novels out from Saga Press in 2019: OUTSIDE THE GATES, WILD LIFE, and THE DAZZLE OF DAY, as well as a new collection of short stories, UNFORESEEN.

Visit the author’s website at


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