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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Interviews

Maria Kontak

Associate Editor interview synopsis
Bewildering Stories was first conceived as a way to break the bottleneck of print publishing in science fiction. It soon expanded its scope to include all “speculative” writing, however loosely it may be defined. It has long had a kind of educational mission, to encourage new and aspiring writers. Our Associate Editors’ work for our regular issues is mirrored by that of the Review Board for our Quarterly and Annual Reviews. The Review Editors are our flag-bearers; they ensure that Bewildering Stories holds its own with the best current literature on line and in print. This interview expresses our appreciation to one of our Review Editors.

Maria Kontak
My occcupation: international business and trade — I loved my profession because there was always something new to learn and experience. Ever since my first transcontinental flight (from Poland to Detroit, via Amsterdam and New York City) at nine, I knew I was meant to travel.

Since I was too short to be a glamorous flight attendant, I went into less restrictive international work: diplomacy and trade. Eventually jet lag did me in and I opted out of non-stop travel for the sedentary business of writing fiction.

Favorite authors: Anthony Powell, Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen. As for poets: W.H. Auden, Yeats, Brodsky and Milosz.

My favorite book is The Doll, by Boleslaw Prus in an excellent translation by David Welsh.

As for my own writing, I came to it in the same way as to Bewildering Stories, through my friend Bill Bowler. I started early, got discouraged — a rejection from The New Yorker — and picked it up again only 30 years later.

Essential to my writing is a supportive, trained eye and ear, a personal editor. I have been lucky not only with Bill but with Prof. Gitta Hammarberg of Macalester College, who has pulled me out of myself, made the hard comments as well as the kind ones, and enabled me to keep going.

Of course, she is only one reader, but as far as that goes, there would be no second reader if she pulled out, not yet, if ever (I hope she doesn't read this and pull out!). The point is that support is vital because writing is so lonely on every conceivable plane. It's not like travel, which feeds your senses and spirit the minute you land. For me, with writing, the travel never ends.

My fiction draws heavily on personal experience, building imaginary bridges for different places and spaces in different time zones and epochs. It’s an ongoing search for the constant that lifts all of us up wherever or whenever we may pop up in the universe. I dislike realistic, naturalistic writing that dwells on the basements of life. My reach is always towards the stratosphere.

I am very undisciplined and riddled with self-doubt, still hoping to define my voice. That is my biggest challenge: finding the true tone, the one that is mine and not someone else's.

Editing for Bewildering Stories and writer friends outside of Bewildering Stories, plus doing book reviews for the Washington Independent Review of Books (I live in Washington, D.C.), is essential to finding my voice and improving my writing. It is wonderful to find that right passage or that striking image and also disappointing when something goes terribly wrong with a story that started out with such promise.

One question that is very important is the one about who drives the story: the narrator/writer or the characters. Sadly, I fall short of the right choice, as do many of the works that I mentioned above that somehow disappoint. For a story to really capture the reader, the characters must be in the driver's seat.

Copyright © 2012 by Maria Kontak
and Bewildering Stories

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