[Interviewer's Note: This is a series of interviews featuring the contributors of Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF edited by Jetse de Vries.]

Mari Ness lives in central Florida, and likes to watch space shuttles and rockets leap into the sky. Her work has previously appeared in numerous print and online venues, including Fantasy Magazine, Hub Fiction and Farrago’s Wainscot. She’s still hoping to spend time in a space station some day.



Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what’s the appeal of science fiction for you?

Mari Ness: “Space, the final frontier.”

Corny, I know. But whenever I see science fiction, I flash back to watching Star Trek with my dad, my teddy bear and/or Tina my doll, watching people getting to go everywhere and everywhen. Unlimited possibilities. I loved that. I still can’t figure out why it’s taking us so long to break the laws of physics and leap into those possibilities.


CT: What made you decide to write science fiction?

Mari Ness: Science fiction is where I work out a specific idea, or ideas, to see their impact, usually but not always on relationships. Not necessarily romantic ones, either; I’m fascinated by how I interact with friends through technology.

CT: Has your familiarity with marine biology made any impact in your fiction?

MN: Absolutely. Directly, with a couple of pieces already out or forthcoming focusing on Florida water issues, and in a Cthulhu based serial story that I’ve been penning over at Innsmouth Free Press about a group of marine biologists, directly based on my experiences in university administration and a graduate marine biology program, except that my fictional characters are swimming in considerably colder water with more tentacles, and the Cthulhu worshipping cultist administrators are considerably kinder and more reasonable. A subplot in Twittering the Stars came directly from marine bacteria and virus studies.

Indirectly, in that I have a much greater need to keep my science fiction based on scientific reality – except when I drift over to playing with time travel, which is a bit more on the fantasy side of things anyway.

CT: What made you decide to write your Shine story using the Twitter format?

CT: What made you decide to contribute to the Shine anthology? What were the difficulties in writing such a story?

MN:I need to answer these two questions together, since – confession time – I didn’t actually write my Shine story for the anthology.

When I was twelve or so, I decided that I wanted to write a story that could be read backwards or forwards. I tried, but each attempt failed miserably (although I achieved this with a couple of short poems.)

Flash forward to January 2009, when Berrien Henderson, who blogs over at selfavowkedgeek.livejournal.com, alerted me to Thaumatrope, a zine focused on twitter based fiction. Another friend of mine joked that I’d never be able to write for them – I’m just too wordy. (I believe I was complaining at length to her at the time.) I took up the challenge and started writing Twitter stories. After about six of these, I thought, huh, wouldn’t it be fun to write an entire story in Twitter format? About 30 seconds later, I realized – wait, this could be my backwards/forwards story! I jotted up a couple of notes, and in late March I started writing.

When I was done, I realized that the story would be difficult to place, because of the length and the very experimental format. I was a bit worried that the story might not be optimistic enough for Shine (my actual note in my Excel tracking sheet says, “Probably too gloomy,” and now that I’ve read through the anthology, I do think it’s the least optimistic story in there) but on the other hand, Jetse had already published one of my little Twitter stories, so I figured that he might at least be willing to give it a read.

CT: Considering you also write flash fiction, what are the challenges in writing short stories vs. flash fiction vs. Twitter fiction?

MN: With short fiction, the challenge is keeping the focus through the entire writing process – I have a bad habit of abandoning short stories, sometimes for good reasons, often not – and trying to find the end. My flash fiction and short fiction almost always start up with either an idea or a sentence, not a complete story concept, and then I go on from there. Most of my flash fiction stories are written within a day, or even an hour or two, so that focus is easier.

With Twitter fiction the process is different: I need to work in a very specific impact or joke within a very short period of time, so I need to get the impact or joke first, the words second.

CT: Do you think science fiction is capable of changing the world? (For better or for worse?)

MN: I like to think science fiction is capable of changing technologies by helping to inspire engineers and innovators to think of new products and possibilities. I don’t, however, think that technology is always an improvement (I say, listening to the obnoxious sounds of leaf blowers and wishing that this apartment complex would return to nice quiet brooms). Sometimes it’s a tradeoff – for example, cars have resulted in considerably cleaner and less smelly streets than horse-drawn carriages, but they created their own pollution and severe political problems.

CT: In general, do you have an optimistic view of the world?

MN: Not at all.

When my friends heard that something I wrote was appearing in an optimistic anthology of science fiction, they first refused to believe me, and then fell over laughing. That kinda tells you. Although I am optimistic about the power of dark chocolate.

CT: Anything else you want to plug?

MN: I have a few projects in the works, but nothing is particularly solidified yet. Probably the best way to keep up with me is through my blog at mariness.livejournal.com.

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