Author Mary E. Lowd is a science-fiction and furry writer in Oregon. She’s had five novels and more than one hundred short stories published, and her fiction has won an Ursa Major Award and two Cóyotl Awards. Please welcome her to No Wasted Ink.
Mary E. Lowd grew up in Oregon, surrounded by gray skies, green trees, and imaginary animals of every kind. She went to an engineering college in Southern California (too sunny) and then spent six years living in Seattle (too gray) before returning to Oregon (just right!). She lives in a house hidden behind a rose garden with her husband, daughter, son, a bevy of cats and dogs, and the occasional fish. She spends her time in coffee shops, drinking chai and writing about all the imaginary animals.
When and why did you begin writing?
My mother wrote down stories I told her before I could even read. I remember her sitting at the computer and typing, while I played with tiny toys and told her stories about them. As I got older, I learned to write the stories down myself, and I remember filling sheet after sheet of paper — the kind with the giant lines on them in elementary school — with a loopily scrawled story about polar bears escaping from a zoo. By middle school, I was typing my stories, and the blank space of a Word document was my favorite place to be because I could fill it with talking animals, wonderful worlds, and anything else I wanted.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote a poem about a bird soaring through the sky — only four lines long and nothing remarkable — in fourth or fifth grade. Somehow, that was the moment I decided, and bizarrely, I never changed my mind. I never even doubted that writing fiction was what I wanted to do with my life until nearly two decades later after I’d already self-published my first novel, “Otters In Space,” and was struggling to find readers for it. The doubt was short-lived — a couple of hours, but it was an intense and terrifying experience. I’d known who I was and what I wanted to do since I was ten. No matter what else has happened in my life, I’ve always had that commitment to anchor me.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
My latest novel, “The Snake’s Song,” is a fantasy adventure story about a squirrel searching deep underground for the lost celestial treasures. She faces danger — including ghost moles, sorcerer crabs, and a mysterious leontaur — and finds new friends (and maybe herself!) along the way.
What inspired you to write this book?
A local writer I knew, Matthew Lowes, created a card game called Dungeon Solitaire. The game is a cross between a D&D campaign and solitaire, and it’s best played with a custom deck of tarot cards with art by Josephe Vandel. I had already been using tarot cards as writing prompts for my flash fiction stories. So when I learned about this game and learned that a local group of writers were writing related novels, it seemed like a perfect fit. The only rules for the tie-in novels were that they had to be inspired by the game and feature descent into a labyrinth. The result has been a wide variety of novels, in settings ranging from a post-apocalyptic future to the modern-day Congo to the afterlife itself.
Do you have a specific writing style?
It’s hard to see my own writing style because it’s the filter through which I look at the world. I like to think that I bring a mix of light, absurdist humor to straightforward, practical prose that’s not afraid to reflect reality, even when it gets a little dark. I rarely write poetry for poetry’s sake, because I’m more interested in conveying ideas and insight, telling the story, than building castles out of words. That said, some ideas are inherently lyrical and deserve to have their beauty conveyed.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
“The Snake’s Song” is about a squirrel getting drawn away from her day-to-day life in the trees and into a dangerous adventure underground by the song of a snake. Literally. So, the title felt right, and it sounded beautiful. That said, I’ve accidentally called it “The Squirrel’s Song” many, many times.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The main character Witch-Hazel faces hardships, events beyond her control, and terrifying trials — but she keeps going; she doesn’t give up hope; she keeps questing. I hope she can be a friend to people who need a tenacious squirrel adventurer in their lives to help them keep going.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know or events in your own life?
There are always pieces of myself and my life in the characters I write, even if they’re only pieces of speculation and imagination, daydreams that I’ve had. However, I think “The Snake’s Song” reflects my own life less than any of my other novels, because I specifically wrote it as an escape, a chance to try something different.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
Ursula K. LeGuin for her depth of insight; Jane Austen for her cleverness; Connie Willis for her clear prose; and Douglas Adams for his humor.
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
My friend Nina Kiriki Hoffman is a science-fiction, fantasy, and YA author. We met through our critique group, the Wordos, and over the last few years, I’ve spent countless hours at coffee shops with her, writing fiction. She has a way of treating writing like both a serious career and a fun pastime at once — or maybe just a way of life. I admire her greatly and have learned a great deal about how to be a writer just by spending time with her. Also, her fiction is amazing — it combines delightful magic and fantasy with personable, deeply believable characters.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
Every novel in the Labyrinth of Souls series has cover art by Josephe Vandel, taken from one of the tarot cards in the Dungeon Solitaire deck. I chose the sun card for “The Snake’s Song,” because it was the brightest, happiest looking card in the whole deck, and I knew my novel — an adventure featuring a plucky squirrel — would likely be the lightest novel in the whole dark fantasy series. Also, the sunflower imagery in the sun card figures heavily in the story.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Find ways to enjoy what you do. Writing can be really hard, and the rewards can be far removed from the work that leads to them. So, if you can find ways to enjoy the process, find happiness in the work, then it will all be so much better. That sounds vague, so let me offer some concrete examples — my writing group gives chocolate for short story rejections; a friend and I reward each other with tiny toys for writing a thousand words in one sitting; when I did NaNoWriMo last year, I got myself an advent calendar and opened a door for every 2000 words, meaning I had to reach 50,000 — a full novel — to make my way through the whole calendar. All of that might seem silly, but it keeps writing fun and helps build up the habit of writing regularly and writing a lot. When I’m in the habit of writing, then it’s easier to write the stories I really care about.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Mary E. Lowd
The Snake’s Song