Interview: Marissa Lingen

Marissa Lingen is among the top science fiction and fantasy writers in the world who were named after fruit. She has been known to cross international borders in search of rare tisanes. Her personal relationships with bodies of water are intense though eccentric. She lives in Minnesota with two large men and one small dog, where she writes, if not daily, frequently. “The Thing, With Feathers” is Lingen’s sixth publication in Uncanny—her prior appearances include three essays and two short stories.

Uncanny Magazine: “The Thing, With Feathers” is about resistance and hope, and the different ways people fight back. Val stays focused on the task of keeping the lighthouse lit, while Mik has a far riskier approach. Do you see more of yourself in one character than the other? What gives you hope?

Marissa Lingen: Oh, I’m Val all the way on this one. Grounded in a specific place, stubborn, somewhat risk-averse but going to go just forever once she’s picked a task… yep, here I am. The light comes first, the light stays lit. J’y suis, j’y reste. And all of that. I can enjoy and support the Mik characters in my life, but I need pretty strong support if I’m going to take risks.

What gives me hope? Aho’s Ninth Symphony. Just for example. I went out for an ordinary night at the symphony a few years back, and I heard this thing I had never heard before, by a composer I didn’t know of at the time. I had no idea the things in that symphony were things. And that kind of art ambushes me fairly regularly, no matter how much more informed I get in the arts. There’s always something I hadn’t seen or heard or thought of yet. That gives me hope.

I read science magazines. We’re figuring out stuff all the time. That gives me hope.

My godkids are thoughtful and wise about caring for others in ways that we didn’t even know how to be, when I was a kid. They’re figuring out themselves and the world every day. It’s such a cliché that kids give you hope, but—these kids, they give me hope.

I have more practice saying, no, that’s not okay with me, than I used to. I’m better at it now. I see other people getting better at it too. I’d like to get to the point where we didn’t have to say it nearly so often, but it gives me hope that this is a muscle we are building together.

Uncanny Magazine: The story has a lovely, somewhat-isolated wilderness setting. Is it inspired by a real place?

Marissa Lingen: Oh yes! This story is set on the North Shore of Lake Superior. It’s basically Split Rock Lighthouse after a very weird apocalypse. In this part of the world, “the big lake” means only one thing, and it’s a thing I love. I have a strong relationship with a lot of bodies of water, but Lake Superior is the very best. It says so right in the name. And there isn’t any time of year I don’t love the North Shore. January on the North Shore, when the ice sheets are creaking and cracking: bring it on, yes, I’m totally there for it.

Uncanny Magazine: I love the way Lucian won Val’s trust by respecting her boundaries and need for space. It is a refreshing contrast to the all-too-common narrative where someone’s reluctance is countered with persistent (and sometimes even aggressive) pursuit. How did that dynamic emerge?

Marissa Lingen: One of the things I end up doing in my personal life is helping talk friends through scripts. How would I say that to this person, how would I bring up this topic. I feel like one of the things fiction does is show us what’s possible, even speculative fiction with elements of the impossible in it—particularly in human reactions. If you hear enough stories where aggression is caring, where ignoring boundaries is romantic, that’s what you learn to expect. That’s what you learn to perform.

The guys who did the Positive Visions of Masculinity panel at ConFusion 2017 did a great job, but… they didn’t talk a lot about positive visions. Of masculinity. They talked a lot about what they didn’t want to see. I get that; women have had decades of talking about what frustrates us in femininity representation, and we’re only getting to some levels of analysis now that I think are really important. Masculinity rep has been really assumed. And yet. And yet I have had some pretty positive experiences of nurturing masculinity, so… I start to feel like I know what some of it looks like. And I want to show others.

Obviously respect for boundaries is for people of all genders. But I think it’s sometimes particularly important to show it in a male character these days. To say, okay, this doesn’t require a perfect person, what does this look like.

Uncanny Magazine: What is your least favorite bird, and why?

Marissa Lingen: Canada goose. Damn, that’s a mean bird. And big. A Canada goose can kill a little kid. You don’t want to mess with a Canada goose. My neighborhood is home to dozens of them in some parts of the year. I love it here, but: oh lucky me.

Uncanny Magazine: You are a prolific short fiction writer, with over a hundred published stories. Are there themes or ideas that you return to repeatedly in your work? Are there things you haven’t explored yet, but hope to in the future?

Marissa Lingen: Oh yes. I hope so, on both counts. There are long-term things like family and memory. There are more recent explorations on collaborative romance/collaborative partnership. And then there are the SF/F tropes I come back to, again both long and short term. I will never not find the Kalevala inspiring. These days I’m thinking a lot about soil and soil health. So… it’s a very large range of topics.

Up until recently I hadn’t written that many romantic partnerships at any stage of relationship. It’s kind of a weird thing not to get to, but being conscious of it means that even the stories where I’m still not doing that, I’m doing a better job of not-doing it thoughtfully and deliberately.

Uncanny Magazine: What’s next for you?

Marissa Lingen: Right now I’m revising a novel about were-sharks and kelp dryads. I hope that by the time this story comes out, I will have gotten that to my agent so that I can write a bunch more new things. I have a lot of science fiction in my head right now. A few bits of fantasy. And there’s a middle-grade novel full of snow serpents that’s pushing and shoving and not wanting to wait its turn.

Caroline M. Yoachim

Caroline M. Yoachim is the author of the 2017 Hugo and Nebula finalist short story “Carnival Nine.” Her fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, and Asimov’s, among other places. Her debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories, came out with Fairwood Press in 2016. For more about Caroline, check out her website at carolineyoachim.com.

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