Mary Robinette Kowal & The Spare Man

Mary Robinette Kowal & The Spare Man

By Angelique Fawns


Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Award winner Mary Robinette Kowal is one of my favorite author/teachers in the speculative world today. I’ve taken a few of her courses and been blown away by her insightful approach to storytelling and unique ways of dealing with hiccups in the creation process. She agreed to talk to me about her book, The Spare Man, a 2023 Hugo Award Finalist sci-fi mystery. 

Angelique Fawns: What was your inspiration behind “The Spare Man” and can you tell us your creation process and timeline?

Mary Robinette Kowal: It was a collision of two things. 1) I love the Thin Man movies. 2) I do these workshop cruises with Writing Excuses. I kept thinking that I should do a story on a cruise. Then it was a murder on a cruise. And somewhere in there it morphed into “The Thin Man, in space.”


I watched all of the films, some of them more than once, and started working on an outline. I got a little way into it and realized that most of the joy of the Thin Man films is watching William Powell and Myrna Loy banter and interact with the rest of the cast. So I abandoned most of the outline, keeping only a couple of major beats, and went the Agatha Christie route. I gave multiple people motive and opportunity and then made a decision when I got close to the end about whodunnit. Then I had to go back and do a significant revision to make things line up.


AF: You dabble in many genres (though magic seems to touch everything), which is your favorite to write and why?

MRK: Yes. Yes, they are all my favorite. 


I tend to think of fantasy and science fiction as aesthetics that can be mapped onto different structures. I love the way they can turn the real world on the side so that the reader can draw their own inferences back to the real world


AF: How did your career morph from puppeteer to author to teacher? Which do you enjoy doing the most and why?

MRK: I had a severe puppet injury that took me out of performance for about two years. During that time, I rediscovered my love of writing. As for the teaching… that’s always been there. I taught puppetry and now writing. It runs in the family. My grandmother, my great-grandmother… teachers all the way back.


AF: What advice would you give writers looking to find profitability and success in publishing? 

MRK: Diversify your income stream. Write, yes, but also teach, edit, do whatever your skills let you do. 


AF: Your life and career appear to be on a starburst of success! What is in future for Mary Robinette Kowal?

MRK: I’m finishing revisions for The Martian Contingency, which is book four of the Lady Astronaut Universe. I’m also trying to get back into short fiction writing which I had moved away from during the pandemic because writing was hard.


AF: Any final thought or comments you would like to leave our community with?

MRK: Don’t make the mistake of judging your work in progress against someone else’s finished work.


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