How did “In The Beginning of Me I Was A Bird” come together for you? Did it fit your usual writing process?
Most of my stories just start with a single emotion or random what-if. I’m also an inveterate pantser—if I’m not curious about where the story’s going, I don’t write it. For “In the Beginning of Me, I Was a Bird,” I started writing about the rabbit that lives on the moon, who apparently enjoys making rice-cake and granting wishes, and one of the wishes was relief from an illness brought by seeds that descend from the sky.
None of that made it into the story, because—as happens with most of my stories—once I jot down the beginning and the hook, I usually get stuck. In this, I noodled into and out of that file for almost a year before I decided to do a tear-down.
I think that as I’ve developed as a writer, I’ve gained three main tools. The first is faith that I’m eventually going to get to the end, because I usually do, even if I have no idea how and it really doesn’t look like I will. The second is perseverance (rejections, blah blah). The third is actually knowing when to give up on something. I think that’s the real paradox of being a writer—you have to have so much blind faith and perseverance, but at the same time, you’ve got to be able to pivot when something isn’t going to get there.
So I started over, with the bit about the seeds, which became the first core of the story—and I wanted to thank you for these questions, because they made me realize that I tend to conceptualize a story as having two main cores. The first is the inspiration: whatever you need to get started.
The other core is the message: essentially, what are you trying to say? Once I figure out the message, I usually have what I need to finish. I should clarify that I write very instinctively, so it’s not like I say, oh yeah, here’s the message—I just wrote the little bit with the cat and the woman that follows the narrator around, and it kind of came together from there: a story about our place in the natural world and how that relates to isolation.
What led you into writing genre fiction?
The fancy answer is that in the last few years, I’ve come to realize my attraction to genre fiction is partially attributable to the particular axes I inhabit. They’re all liminal spaces and often invisible, and it makes me acutely aware of how unreliable our understanding and observations are. From there, it’s a very short jump into reinterpreting reality.
The true(?) answer is that this is what I like and how I operate. I tried to write a book last year that was just a straight mystery, and I lost all will to finish it—until I went back and pulled in elements from the fantasy space: voice, prose style, actions and observations that bend reality.
This book actually will be my debut, and it tickles me that it’s being marketed as literary-leaning contemporary suspense, because when I read it, it’s clear to me that the person that wrote it is a fantasy author, if that makes sense.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
The only way for writing advice to have any real utility is when it’s specific to the situation—your piece, your art, your career, and your goals. There’s no right way to do this—and even if you think you know what you want or what you’re doing, things change. Art changes. Culture changes. You change—and you should, because if you don’t keep pushing yourself, you’ll get bored and complacent.
This is a tough industry. One thing I can say is that from my experience, it doesn’t get easier as you become more successful. I mean the rejection and the anxieties, yes, but also the process of writing. Your challenges and goals are going to scale up with your ability, so if you’re hanging in there for the day it gets easy—you probably shouldn’t.
I guess none of this is advice, so I’ll give you one nugget that I’ve found true for me—earlier, I was talking about the inspiration of a story, versus its message. I’ve come to realize that for me, successful short stories usually involve marrying these two elements in an interesting or novel way.
Other than writing, do you have any other creative pursuits? What do you do to relax?
I’m so boring! I like to read. I like to play video games (and I love a well-done old-school point-and-click, like Unavowed or Thimbleweed Park.) I watch TV. My friends and I have a weekly D&D campaign we’ve done over Zoom since the beginning of the pandemic that is still going strong.
What trends in speculative fiction would you like to see gain popularity in the next few years?
I’m not sure I’d call this a trend, but I’d really love to see more mid-level independent publishers in the SF/F space, and particularly ones that are open to science fiction. The constant market pressures of only having four to five major imprints in the SF/F space mean that really interesting, novel, creative books are being turned away because they aren’t at the peak of marketability. Anything perceived as remotely risky, like character-driven SF, is shut down pretty hard unless you already have a strong following. Because so much science fiction relies on novelty at its core, the genre’s always going to be a little bit risky—so this constant press toward safer and safer books has made it a tough sell across the board.
I’d also really like to see more publisher/media acceptance of science fiction elements outside of the science fiction space. It’s so strange to me that you can stick magic in something and stick it on the “commercial” shelf, but the merest whiff of SF elements means it has to be silo’d off.
What are you working on lately? Where else can fans look for your work?
I had a pretty decent run of short stories published in 2021, which you can find at mariadong.com. I have a novel, Looking Glass Liar, coming out in 2023. You can add it on Goodreads here (bit.ly/3D7QHoo), although the page currently has an old title for the book (The Configurations of Katrina Kim).
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