Born and raised in Toronto, Arlene F. Marks began writing stories at the age of 6 and can’t seem to stop. Although she’s been published in multiple genres, her first love has always been speculative fiction. Her work has appeared in H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror, Onder Magazine, and Daily Science Fiction. Her science fantasy novel, The Accidental God, was nominated for the 2015 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Retired from the high school classroom, Arlene lives with her husband on Nottawasaga Bay but spends an inordinate amount of time in the Sic Transit Terra universe that she has created.
You write speculative fiction. What aspects of the world do you most enjoy speculating about?
I’m a world builder, so there are many aspects that I like to think about: Science and technology, of course. Language and communication. But I guess I’m a psychologist at heart. I’ve always been fascinated by the ways in which science and technology affect the way we behave, think, and relate to one another. What happens to family relationships, for example, if Mom is an uploaded consciousness in a computer?
You spent many years teaching. Where is there a similarity to writing? Where are there differences?
It’s no coincidence that so many writers are also teachers, because writing and teaching are complementary. They both hinge on communicating clearly and effectively with others, and both require the use of imagination in order to engage the audience. Meanwhile, writing is a solitary and highly personal activity, while teaching requires social interaction. Writers can choose whether to share what they produce, but teachers have an obligation to share information and wisdom with their students. In either case, the key to improving one’s chances of success is to be a lifelong learner. As any educator will tell you, the best way to learn something is to teach it to others; so, without question, what I’ve learned from teaching adolescents and young adults has helped me to be a better writer, and what I’ve learned from being a writer has enhanced my ability to teach.
On your BLOG, ‘The Writer’s Nest’ you host a teacher’s corner full of great resources for other teachers, or for anyone who wants to build basic writing and scholarship skills. Is there a teacher in your past that greatly influenced your own writing?
Funnily enough, the teacher who put me firmly on the path to being a writer was Miss Ingham, my first grade teacher. I was born hardwired for storytelling and had started spinning tales almost as soon as I could talk. When I was six years old, Miss Ingham called my mother and advised her to take me to a child psychiatrist because she was afraid that I was turning into a pathological liar. Mom took me to a pediatrician instead. After chatting with me for a while, he told her that I had a vivid imagination and that she should never let me run out of pencils and paper. Once that prescription was filled and my stories were written down, I wasn’t a liar anymore. I was a fiction writer. And so I’ve been ever since.
Writing Science Fiction requires a little bit of prognostication. Can you list three things you predict will happen before the 22nd century?
First, I think that due to climate change and the trend toward making technology ever smaller and more portable, large numbers of people will opt for a nomadic lifestyle. The concept of a brick and mortar city may even become passé in parts of the world as transient communities form and reform in response to seasonal weather patterns.
Second, in places where cities are relatively weather-resistant, I foresee the trend of self-driving cars expanding to include all ground traffic, with a megacomputer taking over traffic control on heavily traveled roads. Cars and buses will be programmable by their passengers, and accidents caused by driver error will become a thing of the past.
And third, I believe that we’ll finally be out there exploiting the solar system, mining the asteroid belt not only for minerals but also for desperately needed water.
In your Sic Transit Terra series humanity has spread throughout the galaxy. What would be the greatest challenge for the human race if we were to achieve such a thing?
In my books, humanity has access to a network of shortcuts put in place by an ancient race. Without that or something like it, the vast distances between star systems would be a huge obstacle to overcome; and if we somehow managed to build vessels that could carry us at near-light speeds, the time distortion they created would effectively cut us off from Earth. It looks so easy on television and in the movies – instantaneous communication with the folks back home. But the reality of deep space travel is that no matter where it begins, each journey will be very long and very lonely. By the time you reach your destination, several generations will have lived and died in the place you came from, and there’s a good chance that nobody will remember that you even left. Dealing with that reality, keeping memories alive and people connected – that, I think, will be the most difficult part of being out among the stars.
What is your favorite (read) book and why?
This is a very hard question, because I don’t have favorite books. I have favorite authors. If I had to choose the work of just one author to take with me to a desert island, it would be the Discworld series by Sir Terry Pratchett. Besides being wickedly funny, his stories ring with both truth and humanity.
What is the book you dream of writing and haven’t yet?
When I was 22, I traveled with two girlfriends on a three-week European holiday. It was our first time “crossing the pond” and it was 1969. We were carefree. We took unconscionable risks, had mishaps and adventures, and came home with tales to tell that made our parents’ hair stand on end. I promised myself that one day I would write a book about that trip. The details are still clear in my mind, but with everything that’s been happening in Europe lately, I doubt whether I ever will.
Find out more about Arlene F. Marks
Author web page: www.thewritersnest.ca
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