APEX MAGAZINE: To start off, I just finished reading “Weaving Dreams,” and had to ask: what was the genesis of this story? How did the idea of combining Native American legend and European Fae mythology come to you, and what in particular sparked the passion to write this specific story?
MARY ROBINETTE KOWAL: I was at a writing retreat and Tempest Bradford challenged us all to a word race. I was in the middle of edits for Glamour in Glass so I didn’t have an active story to work on. Tempest offered the word “basketry” as a trigger for a new story.
When we’d finished the race, I had the start of a story that I was interested in, so I kept working on it. The notion of the structure of Faerie courts, is something I’ve wondered about before. I mean, Hidden Folk of various sorts turn up in cultures around the world, but there’s a tendency for writers to structure them in a European court fashion, which doesn’t make sense to me.
AM: For anyone who has ever read your fiction (long or short!) or has ever seen one of your puppet shows, it’s clear you have a tremendous knack for world-building and creating an imaginary space that feels alive. It seems that all authors have some aspect of fiction writing (from world-building, to dialogue, to narrative) which comes more naturally than others. Is world-building yours? Or is there another element of fiction you find yourself more naturally drawn toward? Is there an aspect of story construction that you find more challenging than others?
MRK: World building feels very much like designing a show for theater, puppetry in particular. There’s something about trying to figure out how all the pieces go together in a way that support the kernel of the story that is very satisfying and similar in both media. It is hard, however, to pin down what I’m good at, because I don’t think much about how to do them. It’s much easier to talk about the aspects that I find challenging because that’s where I spend the bulk of my energy. Plot. Plot is the thing that I’ve had to work hardest to learn, and that I’m still struggling with. The struggle shifts as I learn so that originally it was overall structure and now it is more about long-form pacing, but it’s still trying to figure out plot.
AM: I love asking writers this question, because they always end up surprising me: If you could meet or be friends with one fictional character, who would it be, and at what kind of venue would you meet?
MRK: Easiest question, ever. Doctor Who, preferably the Fourth or Tenth incarnations, although I would go traveling with any of them. The venue? Wherever he happens to land the TARDIS, thank you very much.
AM: You’re not only a writer, and a professional puppeteer, but you also sew lovely Regency-era gowns, and have retrofitted your laptop to look like a typewriter. Do you find that doing visual arts helps with your writing, whether from literal skill translation (such as storytelling and character-building in puppeteering) or in less direct ways (such as by providing an alternate method of creative expression when writing hits its inevitable bumps and hurdles)?
MRK: Construction and writing use completely different parts of my brain, so they can provide a nice break. Design on the other hand, such as for a new show, uses exactly the same part of my brain. As I spend more time writing, I have less energy for puppetry.
AM: Besides writing, puppets, gowns, and laptop-typewriters, you also do an extensive amount of voice acting work for audio books, as well as participating regularly in podcasts, and being quite well-known for your dynamic public readings. What got you initially interested in reading for audio books? Then, secondly, given the success of your own readings, what would you say is the most common mistake authors make when preparing to do a reading of their work?
MRK: It probably traces back to listening to the radio production of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which started a long love for audio theater. I worked with a group in Portland, the Willamette Radio Workshop, and loved the worlds that could be created with just sound. Audio books are like that in that they bring the added dimension of the narrator’s voice to convey the story. It’s a very close hop from puppetry, which involves a lot of character voice acting, into audio books. Narrating is like puppetry without the pain.
The mistake authors make when preparing? That’s easy. They pick the wrong text to read. It’s either too long, too many characters, not suited to their voice, or doesn’t have a satisfying arc. I actually have a whole series on reading aloud that goes in depth into this: https://www.maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/reading-aloud/.
AM: What can we look forward to seeing from you in the coming months/year?
MRK: Without a Summer, which is the third book in my series, is coming out April 2, 2013. In fact, I’m trying to finish the line edits this week. I’m working on book 4, Valour and Vanity right now. In short fiction land, I have two audio stories coming out from Audible.com and a story in John Joseph Adams’s The Mad Scientists Guide to World Domination.
AM: Thank you so much for participating in this interview and for sharing “Weaving Dreams” with us, Ms. Kowal!