M. Rickert (the M. is for Mary) has been a frequent contributor to the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction for the past few years, including five stories alone in 2003. “Bread and Bombs,” a reaction to the events of September 11th, was selected for both Year’s Best SF 9, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, and The Year’s Best Fantasy And Horror: Seventeenth Annual Collection, edited by Ellen Datlow and Kelly Link & Gavin Grant. Hartwell and Cramer also picked Rickert’s Christmas story, “Peace on Suburbia,” for Year’s Best Fantasy 4.
Rickert is perhaps best known for her richly imagined and often disturbing series of Greek myth retellings. These include “Leda” (F&SF, August 2002), “The Machine” (F&SF, January 2003), and “The Chambered Fruit” (F&SF, August 2003). But her stories range from science fiction to fantasy to horror and magic realism. No matter what the subject, her fiction is characterized by a precise and careful use of language, attention to all the nuances of human emotion and experience, and a sometimes unexpected sense of humor and the absurd. Her interview with Charles Coleman Finlay for Ideomancer is her first interview ever.
Charles Coleman Finlay: So many new writers have websites, blogs, and other ways of promoting their personalities and work, yet there is almost nothing available about you besides your writing. Does the M. stand for Mysterious?
M. Rickert: This question made me laugh. I’m really not a mysterious person at all. Actually, I’m sort of an intimate person. It’s hard for me to relate to people in a broad or commercial manner. When I finish a book I really like, one of the first things I do is go online for the author’s interviews, anything that can help teach me about why that book worked. But I don’t have a published book and this is my first interview so there really hasn’t been any reason for me to have a web site. My stories are not factual but the factual existence is not the only one and they are, really, a truer record of my soul than a photograph or a journal could ever be.
CCF: But why do you use M? (Asks the man with three names.)
MR: I decided to use the M. instead of Mary because an author’s name is usually printed rather prominently near the title of the work. Of course, this is a good thing but I was writing a lot of stories at the time in a man’s voice and felt that my name would break the fiction. I know some readers know that I’m a Mary but I like to think of the new reader, a young person reading one of my stories and believing it’s true. I always like that feeling when I experience it as a reader. Even though, intellectually, I know better and I’m sure that young reader does too, I think it’s a wonderful way to experience a story.
CCF: I’m struck by the variety of voices and narrative techniques used in your stories. If fiction is a truer record of your soul than photographs or journals, could you talk about how that relates to your writing process?
MR: I’m not even completely happy with the word soul for describing what I’m talking about. (Though I understand it’s the word I chose.) My writing process involves getting a feeling for a story. For me this is very physical. I’ll get itchy hands, or a tightness around my heart, sometimes I’ll feel like I have to sing. I don’t ever have the whole story worked out in my head. When I was working with myths I had a sort of template for the narrative arc of the story but I didn’t know the voices until I started writing them. I did set a structure for myself beyond the structure inherent in three of the myth stories. I wanted one to be written with a sort of intellectual style, the other with a sort of humor and heart, and the third to be a fairly unrelenting horror story, without the gruesome. After those stories I notice that I often set parameters like that for myself when approaching a story. About halfway through the writing, I usually grab a sheet of paper and write the ending. Until I fill in that gap between beginning and ending it’s fun and scary and exciting to see how I get there.
Everything about my writing life changed for the better since I developed patience. I never rush a story out of the house or onto the page. If I get to the point in a story where everything is real quiet, I have learned that it might mean I need to set it down until I can hear what needs to happen next, or it might mean that it’s time for an actual quiet scene on the page. I write in the morning. Longhand. Staring at a wall. Drinking pots of decaf green tea. Sometimes I light a candle.
There’s a phone in the room I write in (which is the bedroom) but the ringer is turned off. The ringer is turned off on the phone downstairs as well. Also, every single person in my life is supportive of my writing.
CCF: So are you at the beginning of your writing career, with no idea where it’s going, or do see the end well enough now to be filling in the gap between beginning and ending?
MR: I think the end of my writing career will arrive with my death.
Although I’ve only been getting published fairly recently, all those years when I was, to borrow a term from, I believe, Ted Solotaroff, “writing in the cold” are also part of my writing career.
There are a lot of distractions from the actual work. Some of the most seductive of these come dressed up as some aspect of the writing life.
I’ve decided not to spend my creative energy on plotting a career. I don’t really understand that stuff anyways. Currently, I’m at the tidying up stage of a novel I’ve been working on. I have about four short stories started, and I’m in the final draft of another one. I don’t, generally, have so many short stories going at once but I needed a short story in my novel and it took several attempts for me to find the right one. I actually forgot I even had those other story beginnings until a couple of weeks ago. Sort of like finding the hidden chocolate!
I have another story which I think is finished but I’m letting it sit for a bit, to be sure. Sometimes I write poetry.
CCF: Do you have any new stories coming out soon we can look for?
MR: I have two stories coming out in Fantasy and Science Fiction. I don’t know when, exactly. One is a three-threaded story, two main characters who tell stories and the story between them, called “Cold Fires.” The other story is quite a bit darker. It’s called “A Very Little Madness Goes a Long Way.” I also have a horror story, “Art is Not a Violent Subject” being published in the new Ratbastard chapbook, Rabid Transit 3.
CCF: So. What’s for lunch today?
MR: I had yoghurt with blueberries.
CCF: Mmm, blueberries. Is it fresh blueberry season already? Thank you so much for your answers to these questions, Mary. I feel very honoured to be the first person to interview you. Good luck with your writing.
MR: Charlie, Thank you. This has actually been interesting. Good luck to you, as well. Oh, and sorry, the blueberries were frozen.
The Girl Who Ate Butterflies
Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1999
reprinted in Ideomancer, May 2004
Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 2000
Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 2001
Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 2002
Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 2003
Bread and Bombs
Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 2003
reprinted in Year’s Best SF 9, edited by Hartwell and Cramer
reprinted in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Vol. 17, edited by Datlow and Link & Grant
The Super Hero Saves the World
Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 2003
The Chambered Fruit
Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 2003
Peace on Suburbia
Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 2003
reprinted in Year’s Best Fantasy 4, edited by Hartwell and Cramer
Ontario Review, Fall/Winter 2003
reprinted in Ideomancer, April 2004
Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 2004
More Beautiful than You
Ideomancer, June 2004
Fantasy and Science Fiction, forthcoming
A Very Little Madness Goes a Long Way
Fantasy and Science Fiction, forthcoming
Art is Not a Violent Subject
Rabid Transit 3, forthcoming