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Interview: Melissa Marr on “The Nameless”

Tell us a bit about “The Nameless.”

“Red Riding Hood with rage and swords” is my personal definition. It’s the story of several women who are tired of the onslaught of “wolves” and the consequences of the predatory nature of “wolves.” It’s one of five “rage stories” I wrote in 2019. It is likely safe to say the political climate of late has evoked some feelings.


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I’d been trying to do a short story a year. In this case, I’d re-read Herland for a lecture recently. What if women found a way to form a safe, remote society like Herland but instead of welcoming the invasion of men, as they do in C Perkins-Gilman’s cautionary tale, they were cognizant of the threat that patriarchal relationships posed to their autonomy?


Was “The Nameless” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I could offer the obvious—rape survivor, feminist, mother—but that is just part of my bones at this point. I suspect you can find one of those in all I write and do. Different here is my love of the sword and a strong tendency toward violence. I am proficient in marksmanship with my handguns, as well as with historical longsword and single-hander. Not SCA. Not choreographed fight. Sword is fought with intent to injure, and I earned my broken bones and blackened bruises as I learned.

My default practice is German historical longsword. I had been training with the most award-winning Historical European Martial Arts coach in the U.S. and a coach in the Netherlands on occasion. I even flew back to work with the U.S. coach after my move to Arizona. Unfortunately, a partially collapsed lung in 2016 and mild stroke in 2018 have limited me. But, I thought I’d use my knowledge on the page since I cannot continue as much in the real world.


What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story, and what was the most fun?

Short fiction is 100% fun for me. I do it for myself. No contract. No plans. I taught shortfic at university, pre-writing-life, so it’s a pleasure outlet I reserve for myself still.


Can you tell us anything about your writing process for “The Nameless?”

My shortfics are always drafted start-to-finish in a day or several days. I tinker for a while, but I line up the bones in one swoop. I wrote this in Dec 2018/January 2019, and on a whim decided to try to submit to F&SF. It was the first time I’d tried since selling that first novel in 2006.


Why do you write?

Valid question. I suppose it’s growing up without television in a rural home with a storytelling family. Aside from Jewish German ancestors, my family is wholly Scots or Irish on both sides. Story is simply what you do. I come from roots poor in most practical ways but rich in of whisky, sweat, and story. There are downsides to that world, but it also means I grew up understanding that story was important, that nature held truths, and that you don’t go back on your word even if it wasn’t in a written contract. I try to hold true to that.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

In terms of my beliefs about writing: Faulkner, Hardy, Kate Chopin.  In terms of story, I suspect it’s mostly folklorists. In terms of life, my memory of my grandmother is my guiding light.


What would you want a reader to take away from this story?

Whatever they see fit, I suppose. Ultimately, I’m very much a believer that Faulkner’s Nobel speech is it, why we write, and why writing matters. He noted that people not only have an “inexhaustible voice” but a “spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance” and that a writer’s “duty is to write about these things” (Faulkner). That same logic applies to the highbrow and genre, poetry and prose.


What are you working on now?

Oddly, perhaps, I’m finishing photography for a book on wild horses. I didn’t publicize my photography because, like sword and kayak and baking, I do it to pursue peace. My editor at Penguin saw it and asked about doing a book. So, I’m stalking wild horses with my camera. I’m also finishing final edits on a faux-Victorian fantasy novel for young readers (also for Penguin) and just finished my first adult fantasy novel in years that began as a “coping” mechanism after a rattlesnake bite in September. It was a horrific pain to have fangs jab into me, so I started writing after each nightmare. I ended up turning my fear into a novel.


“The Nameless” appears in the January/February 2020 issue of F&SF.

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Melissa Marr can be found at and on Twitter @melissa_marr


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