Mary Akers's Blog

March 17, 2014

I have ten free vouchers for the new audiobook version of my old short story collection WOMEN UP ON BLOCKS! First come, first served.

If you like audiobooks and you want a voucher, just send me a message and I'll give you the secret code to get your free copy.

The narrator, Erin Jones, did a fantastic job. You can listen to a sample HERE. Women Up On Blocks by Mary Akers
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Published on March 17, 2014 12:44 • 111 views

December 12, 2013

If you've been waiting for a Kindle version of Bones of an Inland Sea to become available (I have!), wait no more! Our e-book is now on sale!! And it's half the price of a hard-copy version. I'm going to go buy myself one right now. :) Buy it (Yes, sometimes authors buy their own books just for the thrill of it.) here.
Bones of an Inland Sea by Mary Akers
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Published on December 12, 2013 09:21 • 87 views • Tags: kindle, linked-stories, ocean, women

October 8, 2013

So excited to be working with the excellent narrator Erin L. Jones, on an audiobook version for Bones of an Inland Sea! We're working toward a December 1st availability and here's a sneak, listen. Bones of an Inland Sea Bones of an Inland Sea by Mary Akers
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Published on October 08, 2013 08:48 • 62 views • Tags: adoption, audiobook, environmental, family, island, lesbian, ocean, scuba, short-stories, transgender, tsunami, women

October 3, 2013

"He literally died of my brother and I could live." Andrew Bienkowksi on his grandfather's sacrifice. THE GREATEST GIFT: Lessons Learned in Exile in Siberia. The Greatest Gift  Lessons Learned in Exile in Siberia by Mary Akers
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Published on October 03, 2013 15:19 • 49 views • Tags: faith, family, hope, humor, inspirational, kindle-deals, love, sacrifice, siberia, survival-stories, world-war-ii

September 7, 2013

Perpetual Folly

My friend Mary Akers has a new book out, Bones of an Inland Sea (Press 53, 2013). I plan to give you my own reaction to this wonderful book in a day or two, but for now let me share with you this conversation I had with Mary. By the way, here’s what National Book Award-winner Andrea Barrett has to say about the book (just so you know I’m not lying):

“In Mary Akers’ stories, as complexly intertwined as the branches of a coral reef, her passionate characters engage both each other and a richly detailed, vital physical world. An impressive achievement.”

Here’s our conversation:

Clifford Garstang: Your book Bones of an Inland Sea is a collection of individual stories. But as readers move through the stories, it becomes clear that they are all linked together in fascinating ways. The more stories one reads, the more the characters reappear and relationships evolve. In the end, it feels a bit like reading a novel. Could you talk about that?

Mary Akers: If I had to assign this book a descriptive term other than short story collection, I would call it a “composite novel” or a “polyphonic novel”—a novel told in many voices. All the stories are interrelated, and yet each story stands alone. Characters repeat throughout the stories and several characters get more than one chance to tell their stories. I liked exploring how our stories change over time. What we tell ourselves, and others, about our lives changes as we grow and evolve, and even how we tell the story changes. Do we focus on reliving the bad? Or do we gain acceptance over time and tell a very different story twenty years after the actual events occurred? The stories in this collection explore the many ways that stories are told: the long view, the personal letter, a retrospective, a play-by-play, from multiple perspectives, etc.

CG: I recognized some familiar scenarios in these stories. There’s a devastating tsunami in Thailand, a woman in a persistent vegetative state with a family fighting over her right to live or die, a cult reminiscent of Jim Jones’ cult in Jonestown Guyana. Do you take inspiration from the news?

MA: Sure, I mean I take inspiration from just about anything, but especially from things that haunt me, things that I don’t understand and can’t let go. The Terri Schiavo case is a good example of that. And the awful images from the Boxing Day tsunami were so painful, especially for someone like me who has loved the ocean all her life. I was about twelve when the huge mass suicide in Jonestown Guyana occurred. I will never forget the news footage of all those piles of bodies laid out on the ground, arms around one another. How does one man convince 800 people to kill their children and then take their own lives?

CG: So would you say you are an issue-driven writer? Are you trying to get your readers to think a certain way about the world?

MA: It’s my job (as I see it) not to make my readers think a certain way, but to make them think. I don’t have an agenda when I write. Or if I do, it’s only to understand, to be open, and try to figure out what is right and what is moral and what it means to be human in this complicated modern world of ours. If that comes across to readers and in turn gives them some good food for their own thoughts, then I’m very happy with that outcome.

I conducted an interview recently with Robert Boswell, a really wonderful writer, and he said he’s been formulating this idea of low-custody authors versus high-custody authors. You know how some authors take you by the hand and walk you through a sort of guided tour, telling you all along the way what this or that means and what you should feel? Well, that’s a high-custody author, like Tolstoy, for instance, but that’s not me. I would call myself a low-custody author, more like Chekhov. I want my reader to do a little work, too, and I think most readers like to do that work. It makes us feel smart when we recognize what is happening or when we are left to figure something out on our own. Basically, I present the scenarios and the characters without any authorial judgment (or I try to), and I want to give the reader the opportunity to decide what he or she thinks.

After all, when I make a book, it’s only half done. A book is just symbols on a page. It takes a reader to finish the book. Readers spend eight hours or more with my words, but they make the pictures in their minds, they bring their own experience to the reading, and they make the book theirs in a really unique way. All of the arts involve an intimate experience between maker and consumer, but there’s something especially intimate about reading. I think some of that has to do with the fact that most art involves the senses—sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. But writing actually involves THE MEMORY of the senses and the writer merely invokes them. The reader supplies them. For instance if a character thinks, “it smells like my grandmother’s kitchen,” well that means something very different to every reader. And even if I supply details—“it smelled like basil and ricotta and Aqua Net and love…” I’m still asking you to go back and do that work of memory and make it your own internal sensation from my list. Fascinating, isn’t it?

CG: There seem to be a lot of characters in this collection with military backgrounds. And also a lot of references to military actions and wars: You have a Viet Nam vet with PTSD, a Navy man who witnessed the bombings on Bikini Atoll in the 1950s, even a small local war in the Florida Keys over sponging rights in the early 1900s. Do you have a military background yourself?

MA: I was a military spouse for many years. My kids were all born in military hospitals. My father served during the Berlin Crisis. My uncle flew the hump in Burma. My grandfather landed on Iwo Jima. My brother was a navigator for Navy P-3 planes. My sister registered for the draft back in 1974 when she turned 18. All my life I have been surrounded by people—mostly men—who have served our country. The toll such service takes and also the benefits it provides to an individual are fascinating to me. I can’t think of any single experience that is more of a mixed bag of injuries and rewards.

CG: Another thing I noticed was that you have almost as many stories told from a male point of view as from a female point of view. Can you talk a little bit about why you chose to write from a male perspective?

MA: Well, men make up half the world, don’t they? I don’t know, it seemed like the stories needed to be told in the way they needed to be told. It was my job to rise to the occasion. If it’s difficult, that’s my struggle, but it’s one I embrace. To be a fiction writer is to spend a lot of time imagining the lives and thoughts of others—often people very different from oneself. I think it’s a challenge. And I find men (as a group) very interesting. I’m really interested in what they think and feel and how they do or don’t express that. I actually think it’s very hard to be a man these days.

CG: You have an event coming up—a book launch to celebrate the publication of Bones of an Inland Sea. It’s at The Roycroft, right? Could you tell us a little bit about that?

MA: I’d love to. It is a book launch party and it will be held on September 21st from 5-7pm at the brand new Roycroft Power House. It’s open to the public, but you do need a ticket to attend. I’ll have some interesting door prizes that relate to the themes in the book (fossils, seaglass jewelry) and hors d’oeuvres will be served along with a signature cocktail that was designed for the book. It’s called The Lifeboat, as in “May I offer you a Lifeboat?” or “Would you care for a Lifeboat?”

Basically, the launch party is a celebration designed to send this baby book out into the world. Copies will be available for sale—and I’ll be signing them, and I’ll also give a short reading to give attendees a feel for the book. It’s always fun to hear work read in the author’s voice.

CG: Check out Mary’s website and blog, and her author page at Press 53.

Mary Akers is the author of the award-winning short story collection Women Up On Blocks (Press 53, 2009) and Bones of an Inland Sea (2013). She is Editor-in-chief of the online journal r.kv.r.y. and has been a VCCA Fellow and a Bread Loaf waiter. She co-founded the Institute for Tropical Marine Ecology, a study abroad marine ecology program originally located in Roseau, Dominica. Akers frequently writes fiction that focuses on the intersections between art and science, including such topics as diverse and timely as the environmental movement and the struggle for human and animal rights. Although raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, which she will always call home, she currently lives in western New York. Bones of an Inland Sea by Mary Akers
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Published on September 07, 2013 09:43 • 50 views • Tags: linked-collections, new-releases, ocean-stories, short-stories

July 11, 2013

Bones of an Inland Sea So thrilled to share the news that my new short story collection BONES OF AN INLAND SEA will be published this fall by Press 53! It's already available for pre-order and all pre-orders will be signed and personalized.

If you'd like to receive an art-postcard about the book, message me your address and I'll pop one in the mail.

Bones of an Inland Sea by Mary Akers
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Published on July 11, 2013 08:15 • 57 views • Tags: linked-collections, new-releases, ocean-stories, short-stories

May 13, 2013

For the next two weeks, Amazon will be featuring the book ONE LIFE TO GIVE and it's available on Kindle for only $2.51!! Please help spread the word (I promised my publisher I could rock this)!

The book is based on the true story of a family banished to Siberia during WWII. The grandfather starved to death on purpose so that the children would have enough food. It's the story of how faith, hope, love, and a sense of humor kept them alive. Also, if you read the book and want to talk to my co-author afterward, I can put you in touch with him. He just turned 79 last week and is still going strong.

It's a GREAT read for Book Clubs, too!

One Life to Give  A Path to Finding Yourself by Helping Others by Andrew Bienkowski

Here's a link to the book's trailer in which my co-author speaks about the experience.
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Published on May 13, 2013 06:23 • 85 views • Tags: faith, family, hope, humor, inspirational, kindle-deals, love, sacrifice, siberia, survival-stories, world-war-ii

May 3, 2013

For the month of May, in honor of National Short Story month, Press 53 is offering my book, WOMEN UP ON BLOCKS, on Kindle and other electronic formats for only 99 cents!

What are you waiting for? That's a steal!

Here's the link: Women Up On Blocks by Mary Akers
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Published on May 03, 2013 06:35 • 60 views

March 28, 2012

My Dear Teen Me letter goes live today at the website devoted to authors writing to their teen selves. Mine turned into a very personal letter, one that scares me to share, but if I've learned anything in my years of writing that probably means that it's good, that I've said something important.

Here's the letter (below) and the link Dear Teen Me Thanks for reading.

Dear Teen Me,

Hello! How are you?

Mary in High School!

Wait, I know how you are. You’re struggling with high school in a small, one-stoplight town. You get told you’re “too good” or “stuck up” when all you are is painfully shy. And it’s that row of teenaged boys in their steel-toed boots, flannel jackets, and John Deere ball caps who get to you most, isn’t it? They line the hall outside the gym, rating the girls who walk past: “too skinny,” “big butt,” “bitch.” It’s probably the right decision to live with “stuck up” rather than reveal the truth. Like dogs, the good-ole-boy gauntlet can smell fear.

Wait. This is a letter. Let me try again: Wish you were here!

Except I don’t. Ronald Reagan is president where you are, long distance phone calls are very expensive, and you think you know everything. No offense, but I don’t want you here. Those 30+ years between us represent a lot of hard-won battles and besides, you’ve only just seen your first Apple computer. You’d be a little behind in my world.

(Sigh.) I’m avoiding the purpose of this letter, aren’t I? I’m supposed to impart some wisdom or perspective to you, but I can’t decide: should the advice apply to the you of 1982? Or to the you that will be me in thirty years? I mean, I could help you avoid some seriously stupid mistakes…but I’ve seen enough Will Smith movies to know it’s not a good idea to mess around with the past. Will Smith? Oh, he’s a rapper, turned TV star, turned movie star, turned…never mind. You’ll like him.

Mary with her Dad.

So, I guess I won’t warn you off any future relationships—they each teach you something and I’d hate for your kids to just—poof—disappear…plus the wrong men ultimately lead you to Mr. Right. So try to be patient.

You know, kiddo, I guess I do have one important thing to say—you don’t need bigger boobs. In a few years you’ll discover the push-up bra and your problem will be solved…as far as the world can tell. Anyway, you’ve got good legs, and those can’t be faked, so stop wasting your time fantasizing about all those magic creams.

Oh, and one more thing—it pains me tell you this, but—you need to come to grips with the fact that your love isn’t magic. It won’t save you and it won’t save anyone else. I know you want it to, desperately, but those three-legged-dog dreams you keep having? Those are only the start of a lifelong struggle to understand that you are not The Fixer. I can tell you this, though, one day you will write a healing sort of book and strangers will contact you to say it eased their suffering or gave them hope, or courage, or peace. That will be enough. It will have to be.

Mary at Locust Grove.

Because you never will reconcile the fact that your father dies alone, living in a halfway house, in a room that is really a closet.

Sorry. I should have broken that to you more gently. Yes, you will lose him two months after the birth of your first child. He will never get to hold her. It will haunt you.

Later, you will worry that you were the classic enabler. Maybe you are. You let your father—okay, our father…my father…Dad—call when he is drunk. You let him ramble for hours and when he calls two nights in a row, you let him say the same things all over again for another hour. You stay silent when he calls you The Fruit of His Loins, even though it creeps you out. You laugh at the jokes you already know by heart. You encourage him when he expounds on his Next Big Thing. You never tell him not to call when he is drunk. You give him hours of your life.

And he doesn’t even remember.

Later, you bring him food because he is skinny in a painful-to-look-at way. You ship him cheese for his birthday and he tells you it’s the first thing he’s had to eat all week. You want to do more but you are in college, barely keeping your own head above water.

Adult Mary!

But here’s the crazy thing, I want you to understand that even though it’s hopeless, even though I’ve told you how it will end, don’t stop trying to reach him. It will be important, when he’s gone, that you tried. That you did everything you could think to do. In fact, try harder, even though you will fail.

Because it will help to have tried.

And even more years from where you are now, when the sister you love like your own breath turns away from you, when she pulls out of life and turns her back on hope, on love, don’t stop trying with her, either. It’s worth the effort. Take it as a sign of hope that when you are given the date that this letter will be published, it will be her birthday. Believe that it means something important in The Great Plan. Send her a link. Tell her that you love her.

And now, you see, the accordion of time has folded, and I am writing not to you, but to the present-day me, working in my lonely writer’s room, bringing to light what I have been avoiding. Call your sister, Mary. Call her again. Reach out your hand, even if she refuses. There is at least love, at least hope, in the reaching.


Older N. Wiser Me

Women Up On Blocks by Mary Akers
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Published on March 28, 2012 06:38 • 319 views • Tags: alcoholism, one-life-to-give, publishing, teen-self, women-up-on-blocks, writing

March 23, 2012

I have a good friend who has recently hit a publishing wall. She's a great writer, with a published book that was nominated for a major award. Her writing inspires me. Now she has a second book out on submission and the process is killing her confidence in the unique way that only the publishing industry can. What she describes feeling is common among writers, even the successful ones. We all simultaneously think we're something really special...and nothing at all. It doesn't make sense, but that seems to be the way of the creative mind.

If you are a writer, here's what I think you need to spend at least a little bit of time thinking about: What does "success" look like to you? I'm talking about in your heart-of-hearts, what does success look like? When you have that warm vision of you as a successful writer, where are you? What are you doing? In my daydream of success, I'm standing at a lectern, reading and answering questions and I have a large audience. So, that's "success" for me, it turns out, and that tells me that I am more interested in reaching people, in having an audience, and connecting with readers. Now for another writer, he might envision success as walking on stage and accepting a big award, or getting an excellent critical review of his work, or making the canon. Another writer might just see success as being able to find the time to write, alone, for long stretches. If you know what success looks like to you subconsciously, you can make changes in your work to push it in that direction.

You have limitations, you say? All writers have limitations, even the great ones. And most creative people are working through the same themes for the bulk of their lives. I just read John Irving's most recent book, and thirty-plus years later he is still rehashing the same themes--absent women, dastardly dogs, death of a child, and oral sex (usually taking place in a car) that goes horribly wrong. Every one of his books seems to have one or more of these issues creep in--but he's JOHN IRVING...and he's a writer with limitations.

When the negative responses start to come in, we can parse them for similarities. Do any of the publisher's responses ring true in terms of specific criticisms? Are there common complaints that can be addressed before the next round of submissions? I'm always amazed by the ways that small adjustments can make a huge difference to readers. (And help the writer to feel proactive instead of reactive.)

Alternatively--and this is a scary question, but bear with me--could it be time for you to give up? Maybe it is time to ask that awful question. Asking is just asking, just admitting to a possibility. Why not give up and see how it feels? No one has to know but you. Just stop caring and tell yourself you are never going to write another fricking word again, ever. Not one. Then see how that feels. Freeing? Good. Go with it. It is guaranteed to take you somewhere. I've given up about five times in my writing career. I do it once every three years or so. I simply swear off the stupid writing. What a relief!! I don't ever have to write again. Thanks be to God. And yet somehow I always come back to it. It's how I process the world, so I can't seem to not write. And when I come back to it after sincerely swearing off the writing, I come back with renewed vigor and fresh eyes because I know I'm doing it by choice. I usually feel less pressure when I come back, because hey, I quit writing, so who cares what my next "thing" looks like?

And my final words of wisdom...chances are good that you are actually closer than you have ever been before. Look behind you at the long road you have already traveled and imagine yourself back there at the start of it all. Wouldn't where you are now look like success to that far away writer? Here is what I told my friend: You have an agent who believes in you. Your work is being sent out and landing on the desks of big NYC editors. It's getting READ!!! CONSIDERED!! It only takes one yes. You've done your part, let the agent do the hard work now. And maybe it's best if you tell her to hold onto the responses for a while. Ask her not to tell you what they are until she has a common complaint that you can address. You don't need to read and obsess over the nuance of every single rejection. Let her do that, let her absorb the blows for a while. She's got more distance. It isn't her baby in the same way it is yours. It sounds like it is self-defeating and counterproductive for you to be kept apprised of the responses as they come in. Plenty of writers tell their agents they don't want to know, they just want to write. You could try that with this next round of subs and see how that works for you.
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Published on March 23, 2012 11:14 • 371 views • Tags: publishing, rejection, revisions, success, writing