Q&A with Mary Soon Lee

Frequent contributor Mary Soon Lee grants us another flash fiction piece this month [in our current issue on sale now]. Below, she explains how she decides whether an idea will become poetry or prose, and what themes she finds herself returning to in both forms.


Analog Editor: Mary, we have seen a lot from you this year (which we are so happy about!), including both fiction and poetry. Do you find writing poetry and prose to be drastically different? Does your process differ?

MSL: I’ve been happy and honored to have several pieces in Analog. Thank you! I don’t find writing poetry and prose drastically different. That may be because most of my poetry is free verse, i.e. lacking rhyme and regular meter, yet often contains a narrative element. Whereas my short stories, particularly the flash fiction, sometimes lack narrative, as was the case with “Prime Opportunity: Dirt” in the May/June issue of Analog. This month’s story is a perfect example of how blurred I find the line between prose and poetry. I first wrote it as a poem, then, after reflection, recast it as prose. As far as process goes, when writing poetry I am more conscious of the sound of the words.


AE: This month, we have the second of two consecutive flash fiction pieces from you (“Extracts from the Captain’s Notes”). Is flash fiction something that particularly appeals to you?

MSL: I do find it very appealing. I feel that it gives me more freedom of form and style. Following the birth of my second child, I spent a decade writing only poetry. Flash fiction was how I transitioned back to occasional short stories. Last month’s story in Analog was the first short story I’d written since 2005.


AE: Do you write longer fiction as well as flash?

MSL: I used to write longer fiction, years ago, and I anticipate doing so again, perhaps even quite soon. I’ve also completed a novel-length epic fantasy told in poems.


AE: When you sit down to write, do you know what you’ll be working on?

MSL: If I’m working on an unfinished project, then I pick up where I left off. Otherwise, no. When I lack a specific plan, I begin by settling down on my living room couch. Usually my cats come and lie on top of me while I brainstorm.


AE: I love how the title of this piece gives the reader our intro into the story. It is such a straightforward way to get information across to the reader elegantly. Do you find that your titles often do this much work?

MSL: Unfortunately not. Indeed, I often have difficulty coming up with titles at all, and I’m very grateful when one works out well. I’m glad you liked this one!


AE: What gave you the idea for this story?

MSL: Immediately before writing this, I wrote a list poem titled “What They Took,” about the personal items that the first crew to Saturn chose to take with them. And that led me to write this second piece about the same characters.


AE: Are there themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?

MSL: In science fiction, I am drawn to space exploration, aliens, artificial intelligence. In fantasy, I’m drawn to heroism and war. I often use Asian-flavored settings. In the past couple of years, I’ve also been writing pieces that are inspired by science. Other than the fact that my father was ethnically Chinese (hence the Asian influence), I’m not certain why these themes resonate with me.


AE: How did you break into writing?

MSL: In 1991, I joined a Boston-based writer’s workshop called Critical Mass, and began writing and submitting short stories. My first sale was a short story titled “Gift,” which appeared in a magazine called Strange Days in 1992. Two years later, I made my first sale to a major market with a story titled “Ebb Tide” that appeared in F&SF in May 1995. (I sold the story in July 1994, but it appeared in 1995.)


AE: Do you have any projects that you are currently working on or have recently completed? Please tell us a bit about these!

MSL: Since February, I’ve been intermittently working on a sequence of astronomy poems, which mix the whimsical and the wistful with the scientific.


AE: What are you reading right now?

MSL: I’m reading Steven Pressfield’s The Virtues of War, a novel about Alexander the Great, having previously loved the same author’s account of the Battle of Thermopylae (Gates of Fire). And I’m on the fourth volume of the Dent-Young translation of the Chinese classic usually known as Water Margin, though this particular translation instead calls it The Marshes of Mount Liang. Plus, I’m allowing myself to re-read one chapter a day of James S. A. Corey’s Expanse science fiction series. I love the series, but I feel guilty re-reading it when there are so many unread books waiting on my shelves! Lastly, I’m reading Ann Leckie’s “Ancillary Justice” aloud to my daughter.


AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

MSL: I have an antiquated website at http://www.marysoonlee.com, a Twitter account @MarySoonLee, and I post brief book reviews at Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/6731291.

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