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Silly Interview with Mary Robinette Kowal, intermittenty teal storyteller
Mary Robinette Kowal is a woman of incredible multiple talents -- a professional puppeteer who sews regency dresses and narrates audio books -- and wins Hugo Awards. Her first novel series, the Glamourist Histories -- fantasy novels about Austen's regency period -- recently concluded. I even drew some fan art about it. She also teaches writing online -- oh, just visit her website. .
RS: A lot of novelists let short stories lapse when they embark on their novelling careers. You keep publishing strong short fiction, like last year's "Midnight Hour" in Uncanny Magazine. How do you make time for short stories, and what do you get from them that you don't get from longer fiction?
MRK: Honestly, these days I start a lot of the short stories while I'm teaching my Short Story Intensive. Part of the process is that I write along with the students in order to demonstrate how to start from a story seed and then develop it into a story. I often have a market in mind when I'm doing these, so the demonstration does double duty. The thing that I love about short fiction as a writer is that I get to experiment with a lot of different styles and ideas without the huge time investment of a novel. Plus, as a reader, I find that a short story can often deliver more of a sucker punch to the emotions and I kinda like that.
RS: You have one of the coolest career histories of any working writer I know, having been a professional puppeteer. In fact, I am going to take this opportunity to link to your audition video for the Henson workshop because it is amazing. (insert vid) How would you go about presenting yourself in puppet-form? Feel free to be practical, metaphorical, or to alternate.
MRK: Well... as it happens, I have been doing these videos recently in which a puppet answers questions about writing. In puppet form, I curse a lot more than I do in real life. And I'm teal. [RS: You can see one of her episodes here.]
RS: You sew absolutely beautiful regency dresses which have served as award gowns, bridal dresses, and icons for Scalzi fundraisers. When and how did you start sewing? And if you'd like to share any pictures of your dresses, I would not object.
MRK: My mom taught me to sew when I was in elementary school, and then the puppetry career refined those skills because you can't buy an off-the-rack pattern for puppet clothing. The Regency gowns began as "research" but I keep making them because they are simple and fun.
RS: Your glamourist histories are, in part, an hommage to Austen. Perhaps you would indulge me in some silly alternate history. Imagine Jane Austen living today, not as her historical self reincarnated, but just as a person who happens to be alive now. How might you imagine her life?
MRK: Her choices would not be as constrained today as they were then. I like to think that she and Cassandra would have a nice flat together and that Jane would continue writing. She'd attend conventions, like RT, and have a circle of friends that she snarked with on Twitter. If you've ever read any of her letters, you know that she was the queen of the cutting comment and would OWN Twitter. She would probably have to have a day job but would have picked something that she felt a connection to, not just something that made her life easier so perhaps social work or maybe an anthropologist -- no. Wait. I've just remembered her childhood histories. I bet she would have gotten a PhD in history.
RS: Like many writers, your artistic talents abound in many creative fields. What drew you to and kept you writing?
MRK: I was one of those kids who wanted to do everything, and they all seem to revolve around forms of storytelling. What I like about writing is that there are no limits. I don't have to worry about gravity or physics or a budget when I'm planning a story, or at least not in the ways I have to worry about them when I'm creating a puppet show.
RS: I read an interview in which you said you dread the "what are your upcoming projects" question, and yet, I fear, such things are inevitable since interviewers have to give us a way to promote what we're up to. You suggested the question "What are you excited about?" instead, which I've used myself. But this wouldn't be a silly interview if I did something practical like listen to what you want to be asked. So, instead: if your next/current project was an adorable animal, what kind of adorable animal would it be?
RK: A three-legged German Shepherd. Okay... I know, that doesn't sound very adorable, but let me tell you about this German Shepherd. Her name is Ghost Talkers. She was a service dog in the war, and lost a leg saving the life of her human partner. She's back home and healed now, and is so delighted and happy and enthusiastic, but can also very serious, because she's a veteran. When she walks, it is a bouncing uneven gait that's kind of funny, but when she runs you can't tell that she was wounded. And if you let her, she would totally serve again because she's kind and loyal and will save your life, then cover you with kisses.
Quick "Making Lemons into Jokes" campaign note: At $155, "If You Were a Butt, My Butt" is close to having an audio version!
If you want to support the Butts and send some money to Lyon-Martin health services (LGBTQ health care, offered regardless of the patient's ability to pay), subscribe to my Patreon. You can stay in it for the long-haul, or just pay in for a single month so all your contributions go to L-M.