Interview:Marie Vibbert&Ji Zhu-Inspiration never seems to have any respect for, say, deadlines.

Interview:Marie Vibbert&Ji Zhu-Inspiration never seems to have any respect for, say, deadlines.

In Mar of 2023,Ji Zhu,Brand manager of Mecrob Team,decided to interview Nebula Award finalist,Marie Vibbert.Her novelette, 'We Built This City', is a Nebula Award finalist for 2023!

Marie is a computer programmer in Cleveland, Ohio. She is an organizer for the Cleveland Game Developers group. She is a member of the Cleveland science fiction writing workshop, The Cajun Sushi Hamsters from Hell, attended Clarion in 2013, and joined SFWA in 2014.

Marie is also a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, SFPA. She was nominated for their Rhysling Award in 2015, 2021, and 2022, won second place in the Hessler Street Fair poetry contest, and once sold a rhyming poem to a magazine that had “no rhyming poetry” in their guidelines.

Her work reflects her working-class upbringing in the rust belt.

She has been translated into French, Czech, Chinese, and Vietnamese!  Her work has been called “..the embodiment of what science fiction should be…” by The Oxford Culture Review.

Ji:Congratulations on your very first big nomination for Nebula Awards!

Marie:Thank you! I'm still soooo amazed this really happened!

Ji:Could you introduce 'We Built This City',which was nominated for the Nebula Award?

Marie:I was raised by a single father, a construction worker, a laborer in the AFL-CIO.  The very first short story I ever wrote, aside from school assignments and the "novels" which I started writing with great hubris in elementary school, was about spies organizing a union on the moon.  So I've written a lot of stories that feature worker's rights, but I had yet to really write a story about unionizing, about a strike.  I wanted to do that, but was frustrated with the scope.  Strikes are long, gruelling affairs, stretching over years, and are often finished by different people than started them.  Still, I wanted to see what I could fit in a short story. 

In 2020, having had success dedicating my year to writing a novella the year before, and flash fiction the year before that, I vowed to write a novelette.  It seemed kismet - this story idea I'd been struggling with simply needed more room, so it had to become a novelette. 
In 2019 I had a story in Analog titled "A Place to Stand On" which I wrote utilizing my friend and mentor Geoff Landis' paper on how to colonize Venus using floating cities.  (Geoff works for NASA and actually gets paid to dream up this stuff!) Another friend, Brian Fergueson, had asked me to write about "Aztecs in Space" and so I decided my floating city was funded by Mexico and was "Nuevo Tenochtitlan" - I thought it a nice parallel, how the Mexica people founded their great city in the swampy center of a lake because they had nowhere else to go, and now their descendents were building a city in the clouds. 
As I struggled with my idea for "window washers striking in space" I decided to take it easy on myself and write a sequel - a place I had already been before, starting with the daughter of my main character in "A Place to Stand On."  And that's how "We Built This City" got started.
Ji:What sparked your interest in reading genre fiction initially, and how did reading it eventually lead you to start writing in that genre?
Marie:I was always drawn to space, even as a very small child the books I'd get from the library would be, like "Bugs Bunny Goes to Mars."  My family only watched one show on TV a week together - Star Trek.  Add to that a troubled, impoverished childhood, and I was starving for escapism.  I read paperbacks by Asimov and Norton voraciously.  (I had such a crush on Andre Norton!  I assumed she was a guy and wow he was so SENSITIVE to his female characters! Swoon!)
I was never remotely tempted by the general-fiction side of the force.  My daydreams and play were all speculative.  My bike was a transformer with an AI named Celeste who wanted to kill all humans but I kept her in check.  My barbies traveled in time and fought aliens.  My first fiction assignment, in second grade, was a story titled "Jimmy's Planet" about a little boy building a rocket ship to escape school.  I never stopped writing speculative stories from that very assignment.  I stapled together scrap paper and wrote in them about fairies and witches.  I started my autobiography in sixth grade (there is a certain type of child who thinks it's time to write their autobiography at eleven and that was me.)  I made it two pages into writing about my own life before I introduced Celeste and gave myself an after-school job with an intergalactic time-traveling spy agency.
Ji:Do you have a different approach or method when creating a novel, which is typically a longer format piece, as opposed to a shorter work?
Marie:I started out thinking I would only write novels, and I had to learn the short story for writing workshops, then I couldn't sell novels and friends told me "sell short stories first, it's easier and you'll get a name."  So I dedicated myself to learning the short story, and it taught me why I wasn't really writing good novels in the first place.
The basic structure of a novel isn't much different from a short story, it's just longer, and it has mini-structures within it, the rise and fall of each chapter, which also reflect on the structure of the short story.  So these days, the way I approach a novel isn't too different from how I approach a short story, the real difference is the content.  A novel has more space and so it has to tell more story, more characters, more conflicts, more themes.  

When I plot out a short story, I start with the emotional payload I want to leave at the end, and I write a first draft of the ending. I do the same with a novel.  Then I figure out the beginning.  Also the same.  Then, for the short story, I figure out where the twist is, the one twist, and how many steps I need from start to finish, usually only 3-5 plot steps.  Here is where the novel differs.  I have those 3-5 main plot steps, but then I have to interweave the plot steps for the side-plots, and then I have to decide what arc each character has and what the steps of those are, so my novel outlines are in a lot more flux than my short story outlines.  I outline a short story once, maybe twice, but my novel outlines are living documents that I trim and stretch and rework as I go.
Ji: In recent years, China has experienced a surge in popularity of science fiction, particularly due to the success of the novel 'The Three-Body Problem'by Cixi Liu and its television adaptation. Have you read or watched it, and what is your opinion of it?
Marie:I've read The Three Body Problem. I liked the detective character, such a magnificent bastard, always one of my favorite tropes. I didn't know it had a television adaptation!
Thanks to the increased availability of tools to help translators and the increased communication of our online world, science fiction is more international than ever, and I foresee it only getting more so.  We're so lucky these days to get to read science fiction from Argentina or Poland or Vietnam online!  The Africa Risen anthology is doing very well, introducing a whole continent of authors.  I've enjoyed reading stories by Chinese authors in Clarkesworld magazine and other places, and I've been reprinted three times in China's Science Fiction world! 

Ji: What are your thoughts on Chat GPT, particularly with regards to Clarkesworld magazine cutting off submissions due to a flood of AI-generated stories recently?

Marie: I feel great sympathy for Neil Clarke and his staff. I know how hard they work to keep Clarkesworld open year-round and it had to be rough choosing to close. I don't think the Chat GPT stories are in any way a threat to real authors. That tech isn't here yet, and gosh I hope it waits for my retirement? But seriously, a bunch of script kiddies trying to get something for nothing is no new story. As a professional computer programmer, they receive nothing but my disdain. They want the rewards without the work. It'll slow down when they realize that no one is getting rich quick. (No one is getting rich SLOW on short story sales, sorry kids.)

Ji: What are your thoughts on Cyberpunk nowadays? How do you think cyberpunk has influenced science fiction literature?

Marie: I've always been a fan of cyberpunk. I love cities and I love technology. Nom nom more cyberpunk. I have a story being reprinted in the Big Book of Cyberpunk which is coming out soon. Beyond the homage to 1980s aesthetics, which I also love just from growing up in the 80s, cyberpunk has a lot to say about today's aesthetics and ethics. O.G. Cyberpunk was a warning about runaway capitalism we should have heeded. Now it's sending up flares about climate destruction.

Ji: Our Cyberpunk spider lamp takes inspiration from Alexander Trufanov, Concept artist on Artstation and Clarkesworld magazine, and we use the art of remaking to turn it into an Assembled toy. What do you think about this combination? Is it possible to combine sci-fi story to our toys?

Marie: Cool stuff is always cool stuff! Heck yeah. As an author with little to no talent in the visual arts, I'm always stoked to see something inspired by my work. I can't imagine any other author feeling differently.

Ji: Are you working on any new or upcoming projects? Can you introduce them to our readers?

Marie: I'm writing a sequel to my novel Galactic Hellcats, and I have another novel out on consideration which is a sort of retelling of The Lord of the Rings from the orc's perspective, but science fiction. Sort of. There's no ring. :P I also have 20 short stories out on submission right now, 37 rejections so far this year! And I will have a story in Apex Magazine's "Robotic Ambitions" anthology. I'm sending them three since they asked me to contribute and they'll pick which one they like best. I hope they like one of them!

Ji: Can you share what written work has motivated or influenced you?

Marie: I consider myself a broad reader. I read contemporary science fiction a lot, but also old stuff and classics and literary fiction. My top five desert island books are Loitering With Intent by Muriel Spark, The Lord of the Rings, The Faded Sun by C. J. Cherryh, Martha Wells' Murderbot (sorry taking it all it's a series I have decided to cheat), and Analee Newitz's Autonomous.

Ji: Is inspiration necessary in writing? Why or why not?

Marie: It's awesome when it happens, but it's not necessary. Inspiration never seems to have any respect for, say, deadlines. I do probably 90% of my writing without being in the mood to do it - the mood grows as I get the friction over and start. Sometimes I'm in that glorious flow state I call "the zone" but that, also, can't be guaranteed nor sustained. My advice to writers starting out is learn to write uninspired.

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