Mary Akers writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction and has been published in many literary journals such as Fiddlehead and Bellevue Literary Review.
She has also worked as a potter, art teacher, historical interpreter
and is also co-founder of the Institute for Tropical Marine Ecology –
environmental conservation a great passion.
with Mary Akers
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Mary Akers: Let’s
see, I wrote the first story back in 1997, and the last story in 2007,
so the math is easy. Ten years. But I think it's important to note that
in those ten years I also completed a novel, sold a non-fiction book,
and mostly completed another short story collection. So ten years, yes,
but with lots of other writing happening at the same time.
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
MA: Not at first. But as
I got more and more stories completed, I started to see how they could
work together. I had originally titled the collection Viewing Medusa and
was stressing them as linked by the retelling of ancient Greek myths.
You can still see some vestiges of that in the collection's current
form, but after a good friend gave me the new title (Women Up On Blocks)
I did a lot of reorganizing, tossing out some stories and adding others
to fit the new theme.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
MA: I think
ordering can be really tricky. What I did was map out each story in
terms of point-of-view, tense, and something I guess I would call
"mood." I tried to balance out the whole so that if one story was, say,
a dark, first-person, past tense story like Mooncalf, I
followed it with a lighter, third-person, present tense story like Thunderstones. I
felt it was important to give the reader variety as he/she progressed
through the collection. I find as a reader that I quickly tire of story
collections that contain the same voice and mood throughout (especially
when it's an extremely quirky or edgy voice). What can be brilliant in
a single story can be really tiresome in a whole collection.
I also had one story from a male
perspective (about the male character's wife, but as seen through his
eyes) and so I thought it made sense to put his story in the very
middle of the collection. Six stories from a female point-of-view come
before his, and six after.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
means pleasure. It means sit back and enjoy yourself and get lost and
inhabit this world and make sense of it all, or not. It means see this
life and understand it and make meaning out of the nonsense of the
everyday—take a good look and see what you didn't see before. It means
do this, don't do that, can't you read the signs?
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
An abstract reader, yes. Perhaps even myself when I was first
discovering great literature. I would love to write something that
would set that younger me on fire with the love of reading.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
MA: Yes. Did it stay
with you? Did it change you in any way? Did it facilitate
understanding? Did it alter the map of your mind?
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
amazing and terrifying. Kind of like giving birth. Such a
responsibility, but such potential for magic and wonder. And I am
incredibly humbled when I think of readers voluntarily giving me eight
to ten hours out of their busy lives. I very strongly feel that writing
(and publishing) is a process of collaboration with the reader. After
all, what I create is nothing more than words on a page. Just symbols
that ultimately only contain whatever meaning the reader gives to them.
I can put whatever I want in there, but I can't control what the
reader's mind does with what I have put there. And the other end of the
writing process is where the real magic happens. When the reader takes
in the symbols and creates meaning and images in his or her own
mind…often taking it well beyond what I intended...well, readers are
generous. They give as much to our work as we writers do. Without
readers to complete what I have written, my work would never be
TSR: What are
you working on now?
AM:Getting an agent
for my fiction (I have that aforementioned novel and short story
collection yet to sell). But I've been working on that for quite some
time now, and I'm thinking that I need to stop expending all that
energy (emotional and physical) and get back to writing. Perhaps, in
the way of true love, an agent will come when I least expect it—and
once I finally stop looking.
But in terms of writing, I'm
working on a couple of personal essays, and also starting an historical
novel about Elbert Hubbard, who was the American version of William
Morris during the Arts & Crafts movement. I'm fascinated by the
turn away from the Industrial Revolution in the late 1880s, and the
resulting wonderful objects d'art and sentiments that that rejection
produced. Such an interesting time of passion and foment. Plus Hubbard
was a hugely popular figure in his day: a prolific writer, an enigmatic
speaker who toured the country, founder of the Roycroft Arts &
Crafts Campus that espoused, "Head, Heart, and Hands." He was
an ambitious entrepreneur, too, and started the very first mail-order
catalog business. He was a visionary who really spoke to the people of
his time. He was also involved in a scandalous love triangle and was
lost at sea with the sinking of the Lusitania on his way to Europe to
speak out against Kaiser Wilhelm—all heady stuff for the fiction writer
who wants to depict his life.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
Tomlinson’s Nothing Like an Ocean
Elizabeth Strout’s Olive
of the Brave: Stories in Uniform
, which is an anthology of
short stories edited by Jeff Hess, written by different authors. I'm
aware that some people don't consider short story anthologies to be
collections, but I'm still going to list it here.