Scenting the Drive-by: Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary’s first novel, Shades of Milk and Honey, the fantasy novel Jane Austen should have written, was released into the wild this year (via the good graces of Tor and the lovely Liz Gorinsky). She received the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2008 and looked very fetching wearing the tiara. She was a Hugo nominee for Evil Robot Monkey in 2009, she was the Art Editor at the beautiful Shimmer for quite some time, and her work has appeared in venues as diverse as Asimovs, Strange Horizons and her short story collection, Scenting the Dark and Other Stories is available from the lush Subterranean Press. She’s also an amazing puppeteer, and she can steampunk anything.

1. Who is/are your main writing buddy/ies?
That is a surprisingly tough question.  There are so many different ways to answer that … Let me demonstrate: These are the people that I’m most likely to turn to when I’m fighting a story, Beth Wodzinski, Michael Livingston and Laurel Amberdine.  Then there’s my Portland writing group, David D. Levine, David Goldman, Garth Upshaw, Damian Kilby and Felicity Shoulders. Or the people that offer me general career advice, or the ones that I am most likely to be found in a bar with at a con, or the ones that I hang out with and talk shop in Portland… you see my dilemma?

2. How did you make the shift from puppetry to writing? What was the attraction?
They seem so closely related to me that I don’t feel like I’ve made the shift from one to the other so much as broadened my avenues for telling stories.  The appeal of both mediums is the same: they are the theater of the possible. With both puppetry and speculative fiction I am not bound by the limits of the natural world. There are obvious differences between the two. With puppetry I’m usually in a collaborative environment and have an immediate connection with the audience. As a writer, I complete my work alone and the audience experiences it later, usually also as a solo experience.  Both forms have their appeal but it really all gets back to the types of stories each allow me to tell.

3. What are your writing fetishes? i.e. what can’t you write without?
Sleep.  I normally write on the computer but have written standing on the subway platform, or with a manual typewriter at a picnic table, or on the back of scrap paper in longhand when my battery died on an airplane and I had to finish that scene.  

The things that really get in the way are single conversations that override the ambient noise and pull me in. Lack of sleep also kills me.

The other thing that slows down writing is when I’m designing a show. My productivity drops to almost zero. I think that they use the same parts of my brain. I can still write but lose the drive to do so.

So… no fetishes, but some blocks.

4. What inspired Shades of Milk and Honey?
I was reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion and wondered why there weren’t any small-scale fantasies.  I love these intimate stories where the fate of the world isn’t what hangs in balance but the future of a young woman. So I wanted to write a story that focused on one family. In particular, I was wondering what sort of novel Jane Austen would write if she lived in a world with magic.  I think it would still be the same sort of story with the addition of magic.

5. Donuts (or doughnuts) or danishes?
If you still have any of the old-fashioned buttermilk cake donuts in back, I’ll have one of those, thank you. Otherwise, the tart cherry danish that’s in the case on the right would be lovely.

She blogs here.

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