From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Chock Full of Social Commentary: Mari Ness

Mari Ness worships chocolate, words and music, in no particular order, and has a second career as cat furniture for two adorably cute cats. Her work has previously appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Aberrant Dreams, Coyote Wild, and several other print and online places. She keeps a blog at mariness.livejournal.com. Her short story, “Playing with Spades” is featured this week at Fantasy Magazine.

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How did you come to write “Playing with Spades”?

Back last September, I was at the Mayo Clinic undergoing numerous assorted and unfun medical tests to determine what was causing my odd new symptoms and the loss of something I’d taken for granted: stable blood pressure. I kept waiting, and hoping, for an explanation, a “well that happened, so that explains this.” Meanwhile, in the evenings I was staying at a rather ordinary hotel, dreadfully missing my friends, and thinking back to what we’d been doing on a Wednesday night just a couple years before, playing pinochle. The two stories somewhat merged together in my head, and the start of the story was born. But I didn’t get an ending until later, when I realized that some things — like the loss of cards in this story — will never really be explained.

The story cameos Alexander Pushkin’s “The Queen of Spades.” Do you often focus your readings and writings on social satire?

Often, although it’s not always as obvious. Many of the childhood books that shaped my imagination are chock full of social commentary/satire, and although it mostly passed right over me at the time, it must have sunk in.

In the story, the protagonist attempts to secure a full set of cards:

She’s tried. Tried heading to random stores, and just grabbing decks with her eyes closed. Tried asking other people to grab the decks for her.

Regardless of her efforts, the Queen of Spades continues to elude her. What is your Queen of Spades? Your most revered and elusive goal?

You say “goal,” but I have so many answers to this question, from the snarky — to get my cat to stop regarding me as a convenient trampoline/landing pad for leaps, from tall bookcases and to stop regarding the laptop as a cat bed — to the goal of writing something really good, something I can really feel completely satisfied with, to the goal I had when I started writing this story: to get my blood pressure and heart rate back under a semblance of physical control. So perhaps the best word here is “goals.” And perhaps the reason I’m so focused on goal two at the moment is that it seems more reachable than goals one or three.

(Pause to firmly remove the cat from the computer, again. This is a writing hazard never discussed in high school creative writing classes.)

You are an aficionada of Alan Rickman and chocolate (as everyone should be). Can you tell us a little about these preferences, and how they came to be?

I can’t remember the first time I fell for Alan Rickman, but the love was solidified by Sense and Sensibility, Love Actually, Dogma, and the perfect air of utter contempt for students that he’s brought to the role of Severus Snape. (I’m perfectly content, when rewatching Harry Potter movies, to fast forward through all the parts that do not have Snape in them.) However, I am firmly denying any cruel and malicious rumors that I actually squeaked out loud when Alan Rickman first appeared on screen during the latest Harry Potter movie, as well as any rumors that I discussed my willingness to fly across the Atlantic and bear his children for the sake of humanity the second the film ended.

Chocolate is a food group. It is also, I have discovered, an essential tool for all writers, since a steady supply of chocolate on hand allows you to eat said chocolate rather than send out nasty and unprofessional replies to rejection letters. Truffles work particularly well here. Godiva truffles in particular. Or anything homemade, if you happen to be lucky enough to find some.

What other works would you suggest for readers who enjoy “Playing with Spades”?

Oh, I’m bad at this sort of question. Hmm. “Wooden Apologies” at Farrago’s Wainscot and “Choking on Red Flowers” at Edge of Propinquity, both have similar sorts of inexplicable things. “Pogo Stick” at Everyday Weirdness is another mix of the real and unreal, if with a slightly more science fictiony bent to it.

What does Mari Ness have upcoming in 2009/2010?

I tend to be superstitious about telling people about upcoming works, since years back I wrote and sold four children’s books and in a burst of excitement told everyone to be on the watch for them, only to see them never make it into print because of problems with a French fry vending machine. Seriously. It left scars, although I still love French fries that do not come out of vending machines, and alas, was not the last time I had a piece accepted, only to never reach publication for one reason or another. Eventually, I just stopped announcing upcoming works, and voila! — things actually got published. So. Superstitious.

But some more short fiction pieces are coming up in Ideomancer and The Phantom Queen Awakes, an anthology from Morrigan Books, and some poems in Goblin Fruit, Kaleidotrope and Tales of the Unanticipated. I also have a completed chapbook of poems based on fairy tales looking for a home, and two nearly completed two poetry collections based on Greek mythology that will be looking for a home sometime soon. And like everyone, I’m working on a couple of novels. But I think I’ll let my superstition keep me silent about both of those for now.

Rae Bryant is a short story author, poet, columnist, assistant editor for Fantasy Magazine, on staff with Weird Tales, and a reviewer for The Fix. She is a 2008 recipient of the Whidbey Writers’ Prize and editor nominated for StorySouth’s Million Writers Award. Her works have appeared or will soon be appearing in Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, Whidbey Writers MFA Zine, Literary Traveler, and Southern Fried Weirdness, among others. With a Bachelors in Humanities/English and Literature, Rae is currently a graduate student at Johns Hopkins finishing an M.A. in Writing. She lives in a little valley just outside Washington D.C. Read more about Rae at Raebryant.com.

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