Mary Turzillo has won and been nominated for a whole suite of awards, including: the Nebula, the Rhysling, the Stoker, and the BSFA. She’s had dozens of stories and poems published, and now her latest novel, Mars Girls, is out from Apex Book Company.

Apex Magazine: Mars Girls is a fun take on hard-science-fiction-meets-action-adventure. Were there any classic sci-fi adventure tales that you feel you’re inspired by, when writing stories like this?

Mary Turzillo: My early inspiration was Heinlein juveniles, with a touch of Van Vogt.  And most important, Anne McCaffrey, my forever heroine and model. Her son Todd, especially as portrayed fictionally in her work, is a big inspiration. (Hi, Todd, if I were lucky enough for you to see this!) And Star Wars, who can escape that influence?

I love Zelazny and LeGuin, but I can’t write like them, at least right now.  Maybe someday I’ll try such nuanced themes. Both have such iron hands under their velvet gloves. <sigh> I love Philip José Farmer’s work, but his influence has taken me in entirely different directions, darker, as in my short fiction in Bonsai Babies.

AM: In your essay, “Mars Isn’t Easy,” you mention that Nanoannie is a smart girl for craving contact with boys—any boy or man—because of biologically programmed survival instincts. Yet in Mars Girls, she rejects Elvis Darcy as a potential mate before the readers even get to meet him, due to his lack of pheromones. These details seem to go hand-in-hand, but what is it about Sekou Smythe that so readily attracts Nanoannie’s attention, from merely looking at his childhood photograph? The novel reveals why she remains attracted to him, but what do you think sparks that initial interest?

MT: You have to understand, Nanoannie is a very naive girl. She has had NO contact with the opposite sex. She is an innocent, romantically, socially, and certainly sexually, despite her fervent biologically driven desire to find a mate. Like many girls whose first crush is an unobtainable celebrity, she focuses on Sekou because she has no physical, two-way access to him. He’s a real boy/man, but he’s just beyond reach. He’s safe. She isn’t going to have to decide whether to go to bed with him. He’s also her best (and only) friend’s brother, so it’s easier for her to make up romantic tales about him even though he himself is unobtainable. My first crush was Edgar Allan Poe, and then after that Batman.  Being dead or imaginary was no obstacle; it was a feature! And I don’t think I’m that unusual. A close friend of mine was obsessed with Elvis Presley and fantacized elaborate scenarios where she’d meet him and become his girlfriend. I think most women forget their early romantic crushes because they are just so darned — embarrassing! The pheromone thing is just Nanoannie’s excuse to avoid sexual contact, because she just isn’t ready for the real thing. Or for that matter, commitment, which would mean the end of her glamorous fantasies.

AM: Can you discuss the process you went through when developing the idea of the People of the Face’s religion? Did you draw on inspiration from any specific religion from our world?

MT: I drew a lot on the ideas of Richard Hoagland, a charismatic crackpot with truly fascinating conspiracy theories. He believes that certain hills in Cydonia, on Mars, are artificial structures that point toward a special exoplanet. Then there was Tom Van Flandern, one of the lecturers we had on board a solar eclipse voyage in the Galapagos in February 1998. He presented some way-out ideas that are not totally accepted by most of the astronomical community, including the thought that there was once a giant, inhabited planet that exploded and left Mars, one of its moons, with the Face on Mars as a theme-park feature. Maybe I’m remembering wrong. I think that was what he said. His lectures lasted late into the night, and we had to get onto one of the islands at 6:00 the next morning.

Anyway, I took a lot of Hoagland’s and Van Flandern’s ideas and combined them with the thought that humans have a geas to spread throughout the universe. The so-called Face on Mars doesn’t really look very much like a face from other perspectives than that one famous orbital image, but many ideologues have run with the idea that it’s a center of some sort of spiritual energy or antique civilization or — something. I really loved these ideas. I thought, why would people go to Mars? Well, elsewhere I argue that one reason is to practice a new religion, and if you’re going to have a religion based on Mars — well — why not on the Face on Mars? And the Face bindis! Oh, I tried to make one for myself once, but I really need an artist’s touch and some red PlayDoh. I almost want to be a true believer. But I’m NOT.

AM: Did you have a target audience in mind when you started writing this book?

MT: Kids and adults with a sense of wonder. Especially geeky girls with an interest in space exploration. Oh, really, I was writing it for my own teen-age self. And for the people in my workshop. Hi, Marie Vibbert! Hi, Geoff!

AM: The novel deals heavily with themes of distrust and betrayal. Do you think this sense that nothing is what it seems is the result of writing about a lawless no man’s land, as Mars is depicted in your stories, or does it have to do with some other, baser aspect of the characters themselves?

MT: Nanoannie and Kapera are fundamentally good people. Both of them have problems fitting into their environment, Nanoannie because she’s a creative type trapped in a very utilitarian society, and Kapera because she has leukemia with no way for a cure if she’s freeze-dried and sent to a distant exoplanet. They are both girls who are relatively innocent and who are betrayed by crazy people and avaricious corporations.

They do have misunderstandings — this happens to best friends. But they are such unlikely best friends to start with — their age difference and perspective on life is bound to put them at odds at times. But they work things out while they rescue each other.

The mistrust and betrayal drive the plot. Isn’t that a universal adolescent feeling that we carry right on into adulthood? At least I do.

AM: Thank you, Mary, for your time and for Mars Girls!

Jane A. Mortkowitz is a writer and editor, native to Lexington, KY. She graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2014 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and Classical Studies. In her spare time, when she isn’t reading or writing, she enjoys knitting, competitive dancing, and stalking Darth Vader. She lives with her two Shih Tzus, Scooter and Dice, and while pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing through the Bluegrass Writers Studio. She has worked for EKU’s Noel Studio for Academic Creativity and constantly collects ideas for future stories while restaurant hosting part time, while she finishes school.

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