Accomplished poet and fiction writer Mary Soon-Lee is in the pages of Asimov’s this month with her poem “Packing for the Afterlife” in our slightly spooky September/October issue.
Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
MSL: The person doing the packing in the poem isn’t me, but there is an overlap between us. The poem’s first stanza is colored by childhood memories: my mother was Irish; my father would sing hymns while slowly picking out the notes on the piano. The remainder of the poem draws on things I’ve loved since I moved to America: the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the first time I saw Saturn through a telescope.
AE: Is this piece part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
MSL: I often write sets of poems with a thematic or narrative connection, but this one is a stand-alone piece.
AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?
MSL: I began submitting to Asimov’s back in 1992, and continued for years without success. Following the birth of my second child, I took a long hiatus, first writing very little at all, then, when I did write, working on mainstream poetry. In 2013, I returned to writing fantasy and science fiction, and so also returned to submitting to Asimov’s. “Packing for the Afterlife” is my first piece to appear in Asimov’s, but I’m happy to say I have another poem waiting in the inventory.
AE: What is your process?
MSL: I try not to write when my daughter is home, although now that she is getting older (she’s thirteen), it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. After dropping Lucy at school, I start the laundry, etc., then settle down to write with my cats for company. With poetry or flash fiction, I can usually complete the first draft during the school day. Even if that initial draft is quick to write, I typically revise stories and poems later, trying to improve them.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
MSL: I stretch out on the long couch in the living room with my cats on top of me, and jot down ideas or idea-fragments on a sheet of paper. I also keep a file with unused ideas that might inspire me at a later point. Nowadays, I am very rarely entirely stuck. This is partly because I have several loose collections of poems that I can add to, such as a collection of cat poems.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
MSL: Since it is July when I’m answering this question: nothing at all. My son is home from college, my daughter is home from middle school, and I am spending more time with my family, plus catching up on my reading. When my children are back at school, I hope to complete two science-poetry projects, an incomplete sequence of astronomy poems, plus a second project where I’ve written the poems, but will be writing brief science notes to accompany them.
AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
MSL: I would love to see humans colonize the Solar System, and even, ideally, beyond the Solar System.
AE: What are you reading right now?
MSL: Right now I’m reading the poetry chapbooks that have been nominated for this year’s Elgin Award, which is an annual award from SFPA—the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association—for the best books of speculative poetry. Twenty-one books were nominated this year in the chapbook category, and I am reading them prior to voting.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
MSL: Be persistent. Don’t abandon hope because you receive rejections, but instead keep trying to improve your craft. As one of my earlier answers indicates, it took me many years to sell to Asimov’s. I think it is also very helpful to read widely.
AE: What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?
MSL: I’ve managed to forget almost an entire language. When I was fourteen and fifteen years old, I studied ancient Greek. There was a brief high point when I could read bits of the Odyssey in Greek, and translate simple sentences from English into Greek. Unfortunately, I have retained little more than the alphabet!
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
MSL: I have an antiquated website at http://www.marysoonlee.com, and also a Twitter account: @MarySoonLee.