Though long-overdue, we had a chance recently to speak with member Mary E. Lowd about her writing, editing, and publishing ventures!
Tell us about your most recent project (written or published). What inspired it?
Fate has conspired such that I actually finished three books in approximately one week, so it’s hard to exactly measure what counts as my most recent project when it comes to writing. Those three books are all spin-offs of my Otters In Space trilogy in one way or another, and they’re all slated to come out from FurPlanet this year.
One of them, Tri-Galactic Trek (to be released at MFF in December), is a collection of short stories, including five that have already been published and five new ones, that are technically a television show that appears briefly in Otters In Space 3: Octopus Ascending. With my Tri-Galactic Trek stories, I’ve tried to capture the heart of what I loved about watching Star Trek: The Next Generation as a kid, except with cats, dogs, a bear, and a photosynthetic green otter.
The second, Nexus Nine (to be released at AC in July), is a novel that takes place after the events in Tri-Galactic Trek, sharing some characters, but focusing specifically on a calico cat with an ancient computer chip in her head that contains lifetimes’ worth of memories. Clearly, I was drawing inspiration from the character of Jadzia Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. However, I always felt like there was so much more to do with Dax, and so I invented my own character in order to explore the rich concept of a character who’s struggling to balance her current self with the overpowering weight of all of those extra memories inside of her.
The third book, Jove Deadly’s Lunar Detective Agency (tentatively to be released at TFF in March) is actually set in the Otters In Space main universe, except focused on a bloodhound detective on the moon. A friend of mine, Garrett Marco, and I brainstormed the idea for an interconnected pair of novellas about this character years ago — he would write a story about Jove Deadly and his brother; and then I would write a story about Jove and his sister; and both stories would involve the same mysterious, stolen computer chip. So, the final book is a co-written novel in two halves, and I’m very excited about it. Reading someone else’s words purposely designed to mirror your own writing style is a wonderful and surprising joy. Garrett managed to write the exact same kind of dumb jokes that I love best about my own writing, and so I got to experience them without having come up with them myself — truly delightful; one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.
As you can see, I’ve been really busy. However, there is one more project I need to mention: at the end of last year, I founded a new furry e-zine called Zooscape. The first issue came out in December, and there will be a new issue out on March 1st. For years, there’s been talk in the furry writing community about how we need a high paying, consistently released, free-to-read online magazine in order to raise the profile of furry fiction. So, when my younger child started kindergarten last fall, I started one. If you ever need to explain what furry fiction is to someone, just send them there: https://zooscape-zine.com/
What’s your writing process like? Are you a “pantser,” an outliner, or something in between? How do you find that this helps and/or hurts your writing style?
Outlining does not come naturally to me. I’ve struggled with it ever since I was introduced to the concept in sixth grade when we were required to turn in outlines for our big research papers before the paper itself was due. My mom walked me through writing an outline, but it made no sense to me. At some level, I don’t really get how it’s possible to outline a work before actually creating the work, because until I’ve written it, how can I really know what I’m capable of pulling off?
For instance, I wrote a short story this week about a cat communicating telepathically with an electric eel. At a high level, I knew the entire structure for the story, but when it came to actually writing it, I found myself faced with trying to communicate the idea of death through memory images shared between these two creatures. And suddenly, I found myself writing about my own experience from 2016 of spending the night by my grandmother’s side as she died. Because that’s the most powerful, real image of death that I’ve experienced. And yet, how could I have ever predicted that a space opera story about a telepathic eel would involve describing how it felt to stay up all night by my grandmother’s deathbed? I could never have seen that coming.
All of that said, I know that having an outline — if I can figure one out — can really help me to work through a novel length project without getting stuck or somehow writing myself into a corner. So, I’ve been working on developing outlining skills, and since traditional outlines don’t seem to work for me, I’ve had to come up with some of my own strategies. In some cases, I use Tarot cards with evocative images on them to stand in for characters or places in a story, and then I can arrange them in a way that helps give me signposts as I travel through the work. I’ve also found it can be very helpful to pick a story structure that I’m already very familiar with from a book or movie and use it as a sort of road map. For instance, my novel The Snake’s Song follows the general shape of The Hobbit, and the longest novel I’ve written, a still-unpublished piece of space opera, was specifically designed to follow the general shape of The Lord of the Rings — assemble the team, and then the team voyages to the one place where the dangerous object can be destroyed.
What’s your favorite kind of story to write?
This is a really tough question, because stories vary so much… and I like different things about different ones. But I think, if I have to pick, my favorite kind of story to write is either the kind where I can toss off lightweight jokes that amuse myself or the kind where I pour my feelings into the keyboard because they’ve become too big and overwhelming to keep inside myself anymore, and the story provides a safe box to put them in. So, those are two totally opposite kinds of stories, and I seem to have failed to pick between them.
You’ve published a lot of short stories. Since the beginning of 2018, what are your favorites? Why those?
I had twenty-five stories come out in 2018, but the two that really stand out for me are “Not All Dogs” and “Wing Day,” possibly because they were two of the hardest to write. For “Not All Dogs,” I had to tap into the unconscious racism that comes from being raised with systemic white privilege and not having realized it yet… So, I had to look back at the ways I used to be a worse person, and it’s really hard to do that without flinching. However, I’m really proud of how the story finally turned out.
“Wing Day” was difficult to write differently. I had a really complex idea about three generations of a family — a human woman, her adopted butterfly-alien daughter, and the cloned butterfly-alien granddaughter — and in order to convey their story coherently and concisely, I ended up just writing down all of these disconnected sentences about them in a totally random order. Rearranging and shuffling those sentences — and sentence fragments — until they came together into an actual story felt a little like watching a bunch of bright colors tumble around inside a kaleidoscope until they suddenly came into focus as a coherent picture. It was kind of magical, and the story turned out so much better than I had dared to hope it would, like a carefully cut gemstone. It’s still hard to believe all those disconnected fragments actually came together like that.
What has most influenced your work? Is an author, a title, or something else?
I don’t think that I can escape that the answer to this question is Star Trek. Quite obviously, my Tri-Galactic Trek stories are heavily influenced by Star Trek. However, I can see traces of Star Trek in almost everything I’ve ever written, even stories where it wouldn’t be obvious to anyone else who read them.
Star Trek: The Next Generation was like a second family to me when I was a child, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is still, on some levels, my favorite work of art ever created. My entire world view and approach to life was heavily shaped by both of those shows.
What’s the last book you read that you really loved?
I joined a book group last year that’s had me reading a lot of good books lately — N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway, Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch and Binti, and Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw. I highly recommend all of those books, but my favorite of the books we’ve read is The Power by Naomi Alderman. The Power is a thought experiment in gender-flipping the power structures of the entire world; women develop electric-eel like powers, making them the stronger sex, on average, and everything changes. It’s a book that manages to be both horrifying and also, strangely, an experience in wish-fulfilment, at least, for me. I think it’s a really, really important book, and I think that a lot of people need to read it.
Besides writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I have dogs, and I spend time with them. Really, though, I spend most of my time writing, reading, or watching videos — which is not as different from reading as people like to believe. Basically, I immerse myself in story as much as possible, and then I try to deconstruct and understand that story. But I do also spend time with my dogs and go on walks sometimes.
Advice for other writers?
Find ways to enjoy the process of writing whenever you can, because the rewards for finished works are few and far between. Getting published is a long, slow process, full of rejection and heavily dependent on luck. And even when you’re fairly successful, published stories can still feel like they fall into a deep, dark void, never to be heard from again. So in the long run, the best way to survive is to find joy in the process of writing itself.
You will always be your own first reader, so write what you must deeply desire to read. At least then, you’ll get to read a good story while you’re writing, no matter what happens next.
Where can readers find your work?
Most of my books are published by FurPlanet, but my most recent novel, The Snake’s Song: A Labyrinth of Souls Novel, is through ShadowSpinners Press. They’re all available on Amazon. Also, I keep links for where to find my books on my personal webpage: http://marylowd.com/
My short stories get published all over the place, but I tend to reprint them on my own archive site, Deep Sky Anchor. So, you can find a lot of free short stories there: http://deepskyanchor.com/
What’s your favorite thing about the furry fandom? Why write furry?
When I discovered the furry fandom, I no longer had to stumble over the question, “Why otters?” when I told people about my books. Suddenly, the answer was simple: “It’s furry fiction.”
But my favorite thing about the furry fandom is that it’s given a label to my favorite kind of fiction, and it’s so much easier to find something when it has a label. For almost two decades, I struggled to find the stray piece of science-fiction with animal-like aliens or fantasy about animals, mixed-in with all the other science-fiction and fantasy. As soon as I had a word for what I was looking for — furry fiction — I didn’t have to struggle anymore. I could just read.