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Mary Akers 

Website: MaryAkers.Blogspot.com

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.

Short Story Collections

 Women Up on Blocks
Press 53, 2009

Reviewed by Julia Bohanna

Story included in:
Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform
 (Press 53, 2009)

Reviewed by Carol Reid

 Interview with Mary Akers 

The Short Review: 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.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

MA:  It 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?

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

MA:  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?

MA: Simultaneously 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 "finished."

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?

MA: Jim Tomlinson’s Nothing Like an Ocean; Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, and Home 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.