Oct 21, 2009

Keeping An Eye On.... M. Rickert

M. Rickert is one of the quieter authors I've been Keeping An Eye On. In fact I would say she seems to be the most reclusive of all the authors on SF Signal's watchlist. (I couldn't even get a picture for her). She's keeps a very low profile in an attempt to let her work speak for itself. And speak for itself it does. Unfortunately for us readers, M. only has one short fiction collection but that collection and the stories within won a World Fantasy Award for Best Collection, a World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction, the 2007 Crawford Award, as well as being nominated for a Nebula Award, another World Fantasy award, and an International Horror Guild Award. That's a pretty reputable resume for any author's career, and Rickert managed to do all that with just one collection's worth of stories. Obviously, Rickert is a stickler for quality over quantity.

Either that or she wants to give other authors a chance to get nominated which wouldn't be surprising given how nice she was when I conducted the interview which, coincidentally, starts below

SoY: If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, what is the one single piece of work of yours (novel, short story, cave painting, etc.) would you like them to read?

MR: I suppose if this reader could find a copy of “Map of Dreams,” my short story collection, she could page through that and see if anything sticks.

SoY: What's something about you that no one would ever guess from your writing?

MR: I have been told that some people are afraid of me. I’m not sure what that’s about. Almost all my anger, despair, fear and bitterness exists in my fiction and therefore has a rather light presence in my life. I was a kindergarten teacher for almost a decade and I still harbor much of that attitude in my demeanor.

SoY: To date you haven’t published any full-length novels but you have written several excellent shorter works. Will we see a full-length novel from you sometime soon? Or perhaps another anthology?

MR: Thanks for the kind assessment of my shorter work. The novel has been a big challenge for me. I have been trying to write novels for twenty years. When I look at my attempts I see that in each case I had fairly large stories with big themes, this is why I thought they were novels. I struggled for years believing that a novel is determined by the subject matter. I now have reason to believe that this was incorrect. Another painful mistake I made in pursuit of novels was working under the impression that each sentence, as it existed as a foundation for all the many sentences that follow, must be perfect. I thought this was very sensible because who wants to throw out all those unused sentences, or make a two hundred page wrong turn? Because of my lazy attitude I have made so many wrong turns that I have filled several boxes with them. I recently finished a project that with fits and starts, abandonment and engagement took me eight years, and it still was not a novel.

Once I finally let go of that folly I began working on a short story, which all by itself, and certainly with no encouragement on my part, made itself known as a novel. This was evident by the pacing, and the expanse of characters. The story, itself, is actually rather small. For the first time since I’ve started trying to write novels, I seem to be actually writing one. Most importantly, I have given myself permission to write a first draft, to have inconsistencies, unfleshed themes and unresolved issues, trusting that I can fix all of this later. I feel like I’ve been really stupid. Why did I think that writing a novel had to be an entirely different process than writing a short story? All those years I struggled with the form, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, and the answer was right there, in the way I approach short stories. I probably could have really benefited from a teacher. At any rate, I feel like finally, after so many years, I am writing my first novel. I think. Maybe.

In the meantime I have a collection coming out next year with Golden Gryphon, called “Holiday.” All the stories have holiday themes, with a twist. Tom Canty is doing the cover and some interior art as well.

SoY: You are one of the few female authors (and one of only 5 on this list) in a genre dominated by male authors and male readers. What are your opinions on gender parity in speculative fiction today? Do you feel like being a woman viewed as a negative (unjustly so) by some readers?

MR: I know that being a woman is viewed as a negative by some readers.

I think this sucks.

SoY: As a follow-up, did these issues influence your choice to abbreviate your name to just the initial “M”?

MR: I was completely ignorant of this issue when I decided to abbreviate my first name. I have found it annoying how often people assume that they know why I did it, and on that basis hold opinions of me, my work, and also, weirdly, my name. Most spectacularly annoying of all was the suggestion that I was ashamed of my sex by choosing to present myself as a letter rather than a word.

I don’t mean to suggest that your question is in any way rude or inappropriate. I know people are curious about this, but it’s been educational for me how narrow the view is of possible reasons for it.

I really wanted to disappear in my work and have as little identity tied to it as possible.

When I made this decision I was quite young and given to fantasies of great writing success where my poor hand would be much relieved of the burden of those three extra letters.

And I didn’t like my name very much. I liked the sound of “M.” She sounded like she could get the job done.

SoY: What are your writing habits like? Do you have any peculiar writing habits that somehow work for you but everyone else would find quirky (and/or insane)?

MR: I write longhand. My computer is in the office. I write at a table in the bedroom, then go into the office to type and print what I’ve written, which I bring back to the table to edit. I make faces while I work, basically acting out the characters. I talk over scenes and ideas with my dog, Watson, when we go on his walk. Nothing quirky here.

SoY: Some people (as well as the Barenaked Ladies) say that it's all been done. Are there still new stories to tell? Or has humanity been retelling the same stories since the first myths and legends were spoken into existence?

MR: I think that to say every story has already been told is to dismiss the temperament of words, to devalue nuance and meaning. Yes, of course, if stories are summed up into one or two sentence synopsis, then I imagine they all fit into certain categories. But stories are not just a matter of summation; if they were, the summation would be enough to satisfy that need for story. In fact, every word matters. I don’t know why people are so eager to diminish stories. You don’t hear architects bemoaning that every building has already been built. Within each field of creation there is a structure that exists as the foundation of that creation. The opportunity for expansion and artistry lies within that structure and is not diminished by it.

SoY: What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

MR: Ok, I can’t possibly pick just one and I don’t even want to stay in this year.

First, Christopher Barzak’s “The Love We Share Without Knowing” is hauntingly beautiful and should be read by more people. I consider Chris an Emotionalist, which is what I am as well. So if you’re looking for something to read where emotions matter, you can’t start in a better place than this.

A book I recommend to everyone, which came out a few years ago and was, I believe, the victim of poor marketing, is called “Strange Piece of Paradise, A Return to the West To Investigate My Attempted Murder and Solve the Riddle of Myself” by Terri Jentz. This was promoted as true crime but I think would have been better served as memoir. When she was twenty, Terri and her friend were attacked by a man with an axe. Both survived. Years later, Terri goes back to Oregon to solve the crime. I was really struck by how much of the author’s personal healing was resolved through finding her story, pieces of which were held by others.

Another book I loved that seems seriously under-read was “The Tattoo Artist” by Jill Ciment. If you are interested in beauty, art and sacrifice, and if you want to read a book about a strong woman, read this book. It has stuck with me ever since I read it, which was years ago. Really, everyone who reads this book tells me how much they love it.

Finally, I recently read Alice Hoffman’s new book, “The Story Sisters” and I loved it. She’s one of my favorite authors.

That's it from M. I have a great respect for her for wanting her work to be the focus. However, she could benefit from being a little bit easier to get a hold of; she's very pleasant to talk to and she has some very interesting thoughts on writing. That's been something I've noticed throughout all these interviews.

Just a few more interviews are left. Then I'm not sure what I'll do.

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