Q&A with Mary Soon Lee

Mary Soon Lee’s poem “Venus, As It Might Have Been” appears in the current March/April 2018 issue, on sale now. Expect to see her name pop up again soon, however, as we have two flash pieces and another poem in our inventory! In this interview, Mary gives advice to emerging writers and talks about her own path in the craft.


Analog Editors: What is the story behind this poem?

Mary Soon Lee: Often I write a group of poems around a common theme, and in this case I was thinking about alternate realties. I wrote half a dozen variations, including one about Sputnik 23 photographing canals on Mars. Then my son mentioned that when the Soviets launched their first probe to Venus, they still thought the planet might have oceans, and the seed of the poem was born.

AE: What is your history with Analog?

MSL: After repeated attempts, I sold my first story to Analog back in 2002 (“Coming of Age,” published in the April 2003 issue). Then in 2004, my second child was born and I had far less time to write, most of which I spent on mainstream poetry. In 2013, I started a fantasy epic told in poems, which consumed me for several years. Finally, in late 2016, I returned to writing science fiction as well as fantasy, and Analog was one of the first places that I thought of trying. In addition to this poem, I have two pieces of flash fiction forthcoming in Analog.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?

MSL: I’m inspired by the books and authors that I’ve loved. When I was growing up, my two favorite science fiction authors were probably Ursula K. Le Guin and Robert A. Heinlein. In Heinlein’s 1947 short story “The Green Hills of Earth,” there is a blind poet called Rhysling, and the annual award for speculative poetry is accordingly named the Rhysling Award. So it was a particular delight to me to win the Rhysling Award in 2014. Recently, I’ve loved science fiction by Ann Leckie, Sharon Lee + Steve Miller, Jack McDevitt, and Andy Weir.

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?

MSL: I am rarely aware of being influenced by current events, though no doubt I am subtly affected without realizing it. I am aware of being nudged by my reading, both non-fiction and fiction. Some of the books that influenced my writing last year were The Iliad, The Art of War, Countdown: A History of Space Flight, and The Journey to the West.

AE: What is your process?

MSL: I try—not entirely successfully!—to restrict my writing to when my 13-year-old daughter is at school. On school days, I drop her off, then spend a little while on chores (starting the laundry, etc.). Then I switch to writing. If I already know what I want to write, I sit down at my computer and start typing. Otherwise I go to the living room, let the cats climb on top of me, and spend the first part of the day thinking about what to write, followed by an actual writing-session at the computer. Once I’ve finished my first-draft writing for the day, I tackle revisions, submissions, and so forth. I like to get at least one reader’s opinion on stories or poems before I send them out into the world, and usually either my husband or my daughter will give me feedback.

AE: What inspired you to start writing?

MSL: A delay in getting a work permit! When I first came to the States, the Gulf War delayed the issuing of my work permit. I had a job offer, but I couldn’t start work. In the interim, I started writing, and once I had started, I didn’t want to stop.

AE: What are you reading right now?

MSL: I’m reading The Ecologic Envoy by L. E. Modesitt, Jr., the first science fiction novel I’ve read by Modesitt, after having thoroughly enjoyed his fantasy. I’m also reading Confucius’s The Analects, in order to learn more about China in general and Confucius in particular. In addition, I’m reading Agent of Change (by Sharon Lee + Steve Miller) aloud to my daughter. In theory, I’m also reading “Selected Poems” by W. H. Auden, but that’s going very slowly, because I’m liking it less well than I had hoped. (Auden was the only poet that I remember my father introducing me to.)

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?

MSL: One: read widely. Two: write what you love—if you love science fiction poetry, then write science fiction poetry. Three: try to improve your craft; revise, seek feedback, revise again, consider the work of authors you admire. Four: be persistent; don’t be discouraged by your first rejections; keep writing and submitting.

AE: What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?

MSL: I grew up in London, but have since made the giant leap from British English to American English. I still can’t quite reconcile myself to the word “gotten,” but I have modified my spelling habits and many of my word choices.

AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?

MSL: I studied mathematics at Cambridge University, though it was biased toward the theoretical end rather than the applied end. Afterwards, I took their one-year computer science graduate course, and then, after a couple of years working in the computer field, I went to Cranfield University to get an MS in Astronautics and Space Engineering. I have written poetry and fiction touching on math and computer science and space, but the science writing that I am happiest about drew on my high school chemistry (supplemented by research!). I wrote 119 haiku, one for each element of the periodic table, which were published in Science in August 2017. There’s an interactive online version at http://vis.sciencemag.org/chemhaiku/.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing? (IE: Social media handles, website URL . . .)

MSL: I have an antiquated website at http://www.marysoonlee.com and also a Twitter account, @MarySoonLee.



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