Thirteen Questions with MARIA HASKINS
Back in my misspent youth, I spent a year living and working just outside London (I was a Swedish nanny/au pair of all things), and I since I am a huge (and I mean HUGE) fan of John LeCarré’s books about George Smiley, I went to look at the street where Smiley lives. It’s described in detail in several of the books, and I just had to see it for myself. A lot of my time in London was actually spent visiting locations from the books about Smiley. Like Hampstead Heath which is a “scene of the crime” in Smiley’s People. Oh, and Smiley lives at Bywater Street number 9.
- What is the first book that made you cry?
The first time I finished Lord of the Rings I cried like a freaking baby because I didn’t want the story to be over. I wanted more of that world. I think I read the last half of Return of the King basically in one day and night (I was 13 or 14), and it just gutted me completely. I wanted to be inside that book, inside that story so badly.
- What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’m friends with you, Richard! (I still owe you a drink, or more than one, when we get together in a pub some time.) Writing for the Word Count Podcast was one of the best decisions of my writing life. Being friends with you, and writing for this podcast, it’s my write club, it’s my monthly writing challenge, it’s what’s taught me about writing flash fiction. I don’t have writers that I socialize with in “real life”, but I know a lot of writers online, and it’s meant the world to me. It’s a community, it’s the people you chat with at the water cooler (AKA social media), it’s the company I keep to teach me things and find things out and just feel like I’m not crazy for pursuing this writing thing.
- If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t give up. You’ll achieve things you haven’t even imagined yet. And dump that lit-fic and go all-out (or mostly all-out) speculative fiction instead. That last one is a decision I wish I’d made sooner.
- What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?
Wow. That is a huge huge HUGE question. I just did the math the other night and I read about 50 different speculative fiction zines on a regular basis. If I was giving advice to someone who wants to get into writing and/or reading speculative fiction, I’d suggest they cruise the field of zines and find the style of speculative fiction that appeals to them, the stuff they want to read and write. Listen to the Escape Artist podcasts because you’ll get both originals and reprints. Read widely and with an open mind. Check out the established zines like Apex, The Dark, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fireside, Strange Horizons. Check out new stuff like Anathema, Fiyah, Reckoning, and Augur Magazine too. There is so much depth in the speculative fiction field right now, you will find a lot of stuff that appeals to you, and you’ll get a better feel for the field as well.
- What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I don’t know that it’s under-appreciated, but Angela Slatter’s trilogy about Verity Fassbinder should definitely be read by more people. Supernatural crime/urban fantasy, set in Australia, and the books are full of fairytale and myth and characters you just want to follow wherever they go. It’s three books, Vigil, Corpselight, and Restoration. Highly recommended.
- How many hours a day do you write?
It varies widely. I work as a freelance translator, I write a lot of reviews and roundups, and I have kids, so I never really know how much time I’ll have to myself for my own writing. Some days I don’t write at all. Most days I write at least two-four hours. Though a lot of that might spent staring at the screen and backspacing to get rid of what I just wrote.
- Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
When I read Kai Ashante Wilson’s “The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps” it completely blew my mind. That insane mix of fantasy and scifi, of magic and science, of language and dialect and slang, the whole thing, the whole phantasmagoric, trippy awesomeness of it… I don’t think I’d ever realized you could write like that, and I loved it.
- Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I am horribly thin-skinned and sensitive and I am really totally crap at taking criticism. Not as bad as I was in my younger days, but still. I revel in the good ones, while secretly thinking they can’t really mean it, and I have to sort of work my way through handling the bad ones. The bad ones don’t kill me like they did when I was in my 20s, but they still sting.
- What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
I’d give up sleep if I could. I love sleeping, but it just seems like such a waste of time some days.
- What are your favorite literary journals?
Since I don’t read literary journals, I’ll list some of my favourite speculative fiction publications. I read a lot and I love a lot of them, but I’ll pick a few faves. I’m a huge fan of Flash Fiction Online, I loved Shimmer (which sadly published its last issue recently), and I am an enormous fan of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. I also adore Reckoning, Anathema, and Fiyah. There are so many excellent SFF publications, but I’ll leave it at that for now!
- What is your favorite childhood book?
I read a lot as a kid. My sister and I both read tons of Tintin and Asterix, so I have really fond memories of those books.
- Do you believe in writer’s block?
Yes, because I was unable to write for about 10 years. But I think people sometimes don’t talk about the same thing when they talk about writer’s block. There’s the “block” you get when you’re writing and you feel stuck on a story, whether it’s finishing it or starting it or whatever. That stuff I think you can work around by using some “tricks of the trade”. Then there’s the writer’s block like I experienced, which has nothing to do with a specific story, but has to do with the act of writing itself. For a variety of reasons related partly to writing, and partly to big life-changes for me, I basically could not write, could not physically get myself to think of stories to write or sit down and write any fiction for about a decade. It was almost like a phobia. The one thing I was really good at, that I loved doing, was all of a sudden a sense of anxiety. It was terrible. I thought I’d never write again. Finally it came down to a decision where I knew I either had to really, really give it a go or just … not. And, well, here I am. I think that kind of writer’s block is most likely connected to things going on in your life, rather than just having to do specifically with writing, and I am just so grateful I got back to writing. I still have a fear lodged deep inside me that I’ll wake up one morning and that block will be back again, that I won’t find words, that I’ll be unable to write, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Maria Haskins is a Swedish-Canadian writer and translator. She was born and grew up in Sweden, but now lives just outside Vancouver with her husband, kids, and a very large black dog.