Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Interview With Mary Akers

Mary Akersí ďBones of an Inland SeaĒ appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Mary takes a few moments to discuss the origins of this story, research in fiction, how forms of writing intersect and inform each other, and her current writing projects.

Anne Valente: This story makes wonderful use of the notion of fossils, both in terms of Alicia's work and her obsession with what was the most 'alive' time of her life. How did this focus on the passage of time - and perhaps, with death and dying - shape this story?

Mary Akers: I struggled quite a bit with the shaping of this story. I wanted to depict the various time frames of the story existing simultaneously, as they do in our minds when we remember a past event even as we are experiencing the present. The combination of an unexpected obituary-find and an archaeological dig seemed like interesting backdrops for a story with as many sedimentary layers as this one has. I ended up depicting Alicia in the present, remembering and regretting, but also in the past, as we experienced it with her in flashback; and then I hoped to evoke the shadowy sort of geologic past that hovers about and around whatever human drama weíre experiencing in the present moment. Iíve always loved the song ďWalking in Your FootstepsĒ by The Police; itís that sort of melodious longing for a buried past even as we live atop everything that has gone before us that this story is about for me. ďHey, mighty Brontosaurus, donít you have a lesson for us?Ē

AV: So many great details in this story center on archaeology. Did this require much research?

MA: I did do a lot of research, but I love research. Itís so much easier than writing and it almost always leads me to change what the story is about in some way. Since Alicia is a scientist, and a sardonic one at that, I wanted her to tell her story using scientific details in a humorously cranky way. I tried to set that tone from the very first sentence.

AV: In addition to her focus on fossils, Alicia also mentions a number of modern references - helicopter parents, Silicon Valley, Reaganomics. Are these things characterized by the passage of time as well, of what will also come to pass?

MA: I think so, yes. And I think they also help to characterize Alicia--what she thinks about and what she has lived through in her little nano-slice of geologic time.

AV: In addition to fiction, you write poetry and non-fiction as well. Do these genres inform your fiction?

MA: I hope so. I hope readers of my stories learn a little something that they didn't know before, or at least think in a new way about something that they thought they already understood. Otherwise, whatís the point of writing? I would also love to think that each story gets delivered with a little bit of poetry. Fiction is like life Ė a whole bunch of messy carbon life forms all mucking about. But poetry? Poetry is the shiny, multi-faceted gem that all that carbon messiness condenses down to become.

AV: What are you currently working on?

MA: Well, I have a co-authored non-fiction book that is coming out in January of 2010 that Iím very proud of. Itís titled One Life to Give and is the story of my co-authorís childhood in Siberia, where he was banished by Stalin at the start of World War Two.

And Iím currently writing a novel set in a near-future dystopia when everything that can go wrong, has Ė environmentally, politically, and sexually. Itís a worst-case scenario of what the world might look like if we continue on with our current divisive, destructive tendencies. Think Margaret Atwood meets Kurt Vonnegut and you'll get an idea of the tone Iím striving for. Iím also thinking about how I might structure a book of essays, and tinkering with some flash fiction, too, which Iím finding that I really love.

Mary Akersí fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, The Fiddlehead, Brevity, and other journals. She co-founded the Institute of Tropical Marine Ecology in Roseau, Dominica, and frequently writes fiction that focuses on the intersections between art and science, including such topics as diverse and timely as the environmental movement and the struggle for human and animal rights. She has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and has been a Bread Loaf writer and returning work-study scholar.

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