Why I Left Harry's All-Night Hamburgers Why I Left Harry's All-Night Hamburgers Why I Left Harry's All-Night Hamburgers Why I Left Harry's All-Night Hamburgers


"Why I Left Harry's All-Night Hamburgers" has been by far my most successful short story; it won the Hugo for short story in 1988, as well as the Asimov's Readers' Award. It was nominated for the Nebula, but lost to Kate Wilhelm's "Forever Yours, Anna."

It's been reprinted and translated so many times I've lost count. Normally on these short-story pages I list everywhere a story has appeared, but I can't do that for "Why I Left Harry's All-Night Hamburgers" without doing far more research than it's worth to me. If you want to read it, it's available as a 99-cent e-book for the Kindle or the Nook. icon

Personally, I think it's a good story, but I'm not sure it deserves all the fuss it's gotten.

As for how it came to be written, back in the mid-1980s I got very interested in parallel-world theory for awhile, and tried to think of variations I'd never seen. This resulted in several stories -- "The Drifter," "Storm Trooper," "An Infinity of Karen," and so on. I wrote and sold enough of them that when I assembled my first short story collection I called it Crosstime Traffic, because about half the stories were parallel-world stories of one sort or another.

One question I had about parallel worlds was, "How do you navigate?" If moving from one world to another is movement along a dimension we can't see, how can we measure it?

That was one component.

Another one -- in 1983 we were living in Lexington, Kentucky, and came east to visit my sister-in-law in Rockville, Maryland. We drove, a rather long one-day drive, and wound up stopping for lunch at a funky Greek-American restaurant in Sutton, West Virginia. Sutton is a small town that felt like the middle of nowhere. At the time Interstate 79 was being built -- it was mostly, but not entirely, open -- and it occurred to me that this was likely to hurt local businesses, since travelers would now be able to zip by on the interstate, and a couple of fast-food outlets by I-79 might well put the restaurant we ate at out of business.

(I'm pretty sure the restaurant is gone now. It was called either the Olympic or the Olympia, and was located, as best I can figure after looking at a map, at the intersection of Main Street and Camden Avenue.)

Other elements I incorporated in the story -- well, the space shuttle program was going well, and I'd recently read a mention that the city of Benares (now Varanasi) had more temples than any other city in the world.

So. Back then we lived (as mentioned above) in Lexington, Kentucky. We only had one car (a blue VW Rabbit), and usually my wife drove it to work. On one occasion I needed something, I forget just what, and had to walk about three-fourths of a mile over to a shopping center on Winchester Road, and then back. It was a pleasant enough walk, but not very exciting, so while I was walking I plotted out a story in my head. By the time I got home I had it pretty much thought out, and sat down to write it up.

That was some time in the second half of 1983; it took me awhile to polish it up and send it to my agent, who sent it to Gardner Dozois at Asimov's, who wanted changes, which I made, whereupon Gardner eventually bought it, and it was finally published in the July 1987 issue, almost four years after that walk home.

I was happy to see it there -- it was my first sale to one of the major science fiction magazines -- but the reaction, the award nominations and all, caught me completely by surprise. The 1988 Worldcon in New Orleans, where I won the Hugo, was all a blur; I hadn't expected to attend at all, and at the last minute my publisher agreed to pay my airfare, and... well, the whole thing was a bit surreal.

Hugo-winning stories get reprinted, so it's brought in a lot of money over the years. It actually exists in two versions now -- a publisher was putting together a "young adult" anthology and wanted to include it, but had a problem with a scene involving bare-breasted women, so for an additional fee I allowed them to cut that bit. Both versions have been reprinted elsewhere. It's been adapted as a radio play (though I'm pretty sure it never aired), it was an e-book back when nobody knew what e-books were -- in fact, it outlived its first two e-book publishers, Mind's Eye Fiction and Alexandria Digital Literature.

It was a lot of fun. I wish I could do it again.

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