Not all disasters are sudden. Marissa Lingen’s “Quieter Songs Inland” [in our September/October issue, on sale now!] explores the disaster that moves slow as a glacier. Below, Marissa discusses this concept further and offers us a peek at her process and influences. Bonus: Will having a surplus of information about reindeer castration make you a hit at parties? Read on to find out!
Analog Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
ML: I was thinking a lot about disasters and fiction. I love the work of Rebecca Solnit, but I was thinking about how much fast disasters take center stage in fiction, and yet how much of the current climate crisis is a slow-moving crisis. In some ways it’s our job as fiction writers to imagine the dramatic moments, but I think that often leads us to prioritize the large and the fast, to give people a skewed idea of what disaster and change look like. And I thought a short story would be an interesting scope for trying to portray the slow disaster, the sort of dramatic moment that has to be entirely personal because the larger world is not going to give you the clear signpost you’re looking for until it’s far too late.
I have cousins living in Miami, some of them very young cousins. I have had multiple elderly relatives live past their century. So—do I think that Miami will still be a safe place for humans to live in its current form when my tiny cousins are the age our eldest aunt got to be? I don’t, no. I don’t think anyone can look at the science of the Florida coastline and honestly say that they think it’s all fine in Miami. So the question then becomes: when do they know it’s time to leave?
The outline of the state of Louisiana already does not look in reality like it looks on maps and insignia. When do we acknowledge that?
AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
ML: I thought about migrants and refugees carrying their culture with them. I thought, in the best case—the case you hope for, the case we ideally all work for—your song is not silenced, but you may be a little quieter while you’re settling and re-finding the people who can sing it with you.
AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
ML: That depends on the story, I think. For stories like this one, a lot. Current events sometimes mirror or overtake a story—after I did the galley proofs for this one, an old friend told me that she has to leave where she’s living; she doesn’t think it’s going to be safe to raise her kid there for climate reasons. Hard to get more current than that. On the other hand, some of my stories—including some of the ones that have appeared here in Analog—have been influenced more by how I’m feeling about the zeitgeist than by any specific details of it.
I can’t really get rid of the idea that my characters, no matter the setting, will be people who investigate the world and try to make sense of it.
AE: What is your process?
ML: Oh wow, highly varied. Sometimes I have an idea and write it pretty much on the spot (over the course of however many days it takes, depending on length—one afternoon if it’s flash). Sometimes I jot down a title, a concept, or a first line and put it in my paper journal or in a file labeled “Starters” on my computer. (Same file transferred through many computers since I was a teenager. It’s . . . large. I occasionally go through and clean out things I now know I’ll never write, and I offer some of them on Twitter with the hashtag #TitleFreeToAGoodHome.)
I often write out of order, drafting the sections that feel clearest and most compelling first and joining them up after. When I’ve got a full draft, I usually send it to one person to see what I haven’t managed to make clear on the page. Sometimes I send it to additional people if I want commentary on a particular subject—whether it’s something demographic or academic—but quite a few of my short stories just go through one reader. And then I do revisions and send them out!
AE: How did you break into writing?
ML: In the fall of 1998 this guy named Tim Cooper told me that a story I’d written was good and I should send it out. I sent it to what is now called the Dell Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction Writing (then the Asimov Award), and I won. Tim is still here (well, sort of—he’s out getting groceries at the moment), and I’m still publishing short science fiction.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
ML: Right now I’m revising the book I wrote in my dad’s ICU room as he was dying. As you might expect, that’s a lot of work and a lot of emotions, so there are going to be some pretty rocky bits. I don’t promise I won’t sneak off and write flash as a break.
AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
ML: The two collections that I would say shaped me most early on, as a writer of short science fiction, were Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories and Nancy Kress’s The Aliens of Earth. Stellar stuff there. Amazing.
George Eliot, Selma Lagerlöf, Rose Macaulay, Naomi Mitchison, Tove Jansson, Astrid Lindgren, Pamela Dean. W.H. Auden and Lucille Clifton. Rebecca Solnit, Neil Price, Steven Ozment, James C. Scott. And so many more, and then there are all my peers who are an astonishing inspiration and an ongoing influence. I read a lot. No, a lot.
AE: What is the weirdest research rabbit-hole that working on a story has led you down?
ML: The laws pertaining to reindeer castration techniques in different countries in the Norden. I was not a hit at the party I went to after spending my workday on that.
At my house we have a solitaire rabbit-hole Wikipedia game. It’s called the Taft Game. You hit the “random article” link on Wikipedia and then see how few links you can use to navigate from there to William Howard Taft. (I got Junko Nishida this time. It took me four, but I haven’t played in a bit, so I may be off my game.)
AE: What are you reading right now?
ML: Sujata Massey’s The Bombay Prince. Also the latest issue of F&SF just arrived.
AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?
ML: My undergrad degree was in physics with two REUs (research experiences for undergrads, they’re great!), and I did some grad work in nuclear physics before deciding that writing was a better path for me. My dad’s industrial environmental chemistry work also got me very comfortable in a lab before I even got to undergrad.
For me the impact on my fiction is both obvious and subtle. People can tell when I write a story about a scientist character or a particular piece of extrapolation, oh, there’s the science influence; she got that idea because she reads Nature every week; she got that idea because she’s always poking at other science journalism. But what’s deeper than that is the approach. I can’t really get rid of the idea that my characters, no matter the setting, will be people who investigate the world and try to make sense of it. (To be fair, I haven’t tried.) So I think readers will find my science background is at least as much an influence in my secondary world fantasy stories in magazines like Beneath Ceaseless Skies as it is in my work in Analog or Nature Futures . . . it’s just that there it’s a philosophical influence rather than a literal one.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
ML: I’m the only Marissa Lingen I know of, so I’m easy to find!