Smoke & Mirrors with Sara C. Thomason

by Amelia Fisher Read the Story December 16, 2019

“MarsOne” gives readers a glimpse into the life of an unnamed mother who is “… afraid that her child will one day grow up and move to Mars.” Do you or have you ever wanted to go to space? Were you the kid who went to space camp?

I’ve always been fascinated and terrified by space in equal measure. I was a child when the Challenger mission exploded, and the fact that a regular person—a teacher—had been on board was hard to accept. It seemed like such an unnecessary risk, and I’m sure that’s where my interest in these kinds of missions began. I’ve kept a close watch on Mt. Everest’s climbing season mortality rates for years—which I know is horribly morbid. I can’t get over the risks people will take for glory, the pain and anxiety they are willing to thrust upon their families in this pursuit. It’s an impulse I do not understand, but I’d like to get to the bottom of it. Do you remember the guy who made a balloon and flew to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere sponsored by Red Bull? If you don’t, then you should Google it, because it was very bizarre. He wore a pressure suit and jumped off that thing, falling back to Earth attached to a giant parachute. I was sure he would die on live TV, but he lived, so he was celebrated. It’s only when these kinds of missions fail that they reveal themselves to be tragically wasteful. Yet, I’m intrigued by all of it.

Would you say your writing has been more influenced by your daily life, or speculation?

All of my writing begins from my own life in some way, before transforming into fiction. This story stemmed from the intense fear I felt becoming a new mother. I was unprepared for how visceral and all-consuming it was. I took that concept and turned up the dial—gave this particular mother a singular fear that was unorthodox and surprising. This seemed to best represent the almost inexplicable way I was feeling, which was something akin to panic about a future I couldn’t predict—that I might be preparing for all the wrong hurdles, worrying about all the wrong things, that someday my child would grow up and become unreachable in any number of unfathomable ways. Mars represents all of those things. And what to do about it? The answer was and still is, your best. That’s it—your very, very best. And that’s the hardest thing about parenting. You have no control over the eventual outcome, just the small moments that come before. As a result, those moments hold so much weight—what we teach our kids and when and how. The pressure can be overwhelming. I both celebrate and wait with feelings of dread for the inevitable, the proverbial mic drop, my child walking out the door, the quest for independence. 

“MarsOne” is 470 words long. Is this characteristic of your body of work? How important is brevity in your writing process? I imagine you must kill a lot of your darlings during revision. Or, does conciseness come naturally to you?

I’ve always liked sharp, terse writing, and I think that’s what I do best. However, at the moment I am working on a novel that is already 230 pages and counting, so I’m drawn to the longer form as well. A novel needs space to breathe or the writing can feel stilted, so it’s been a completely different creative experience. I don’t have to cut all my darlings! Finally! But as for brevity, I’m always thrilled when an idea for a story comes to me packaged in a tenable size. This story arrived perfectly compact.

Mars One was a real company that raised money to build a colony on Mars. It is now bankrupt. Do you have any thoughts on why there isn’t more urgency to colonize other planets?

Not, really. I have no interest in colonizing Mars or anyplace else, for that matter. I am, however, constantly surprised by why there isn’t more urgency to take care of this planet—our actual home. I’m shocked that we don’t all look around every single day and jump for joy about what a precious place we’ve got here. I’m shocked that right now all of humanity is not standing in front of a tremendous white board brainstorming ideas about how to decrease our collective carbon emissions and eliminate microplastics from rainwater. And this is not a lecture. I am one hundred percent part of the problem, maybe even a roadblock. In fact, thirty seconds ago I suggested that you stop everything and Google “Man Jumps From Red Bull Balloon.” It’s hard to focus on what’s important. It’s hard to resist numbing fear with entertainment. I’m convinced that in the long run we won’t make it as a species. But you know, we really ought to try.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten? (Don’t overthink it.)

Keep moving. This was told to me in an undergraduate novel workshop taught by Bret Lott. We weren’t allowed to stop and edit ourselves for the entire semester. We had to keep moving, producing pages, pages, and more pages. If you are an obsessive editor like me, this advice was torturous. All I ever want to do is polish. I love everything I write to not only read well on the page, but to sound beautiful when spoken out loud. I love the rhythm of language, moving commas around, aiming for that sparkling sheen. But sometimes letting go of perfection is the only way to reach the finish line.

About the Author:

Sara C. Thomason holds an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. She was awarded second prize in the 2012 Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Contest. Her work has previously appeared in Tin House, Witness Magazine, New World Writing, and Atticus Review, among others. Currently, she lives on Isle of Palms, SC where she is hard at work on a novel.

About the Interviewer:

Amelia Fisher is an aspiring writer and Masters of English student at Missouri State University. After graduation, she plans on teaching and formally continuing her education, hopefully on a campus with a view of the mountains.

About the Artist:

Paul Bilger's photography has appeared at Qarrtsiluni, Brevity, and Kompresja. His work has also been featured on music releases by Dead Voices on Air and Autistici. When not taking pictures, he is a lecturer in philosophy and film theory at Chatham University. He is the art director at SmokeLong Quarterly.