Author to Author with Rae Mariz (Weird Fishes)

Weird Fishes by Rae Mariz is a work of oceanic fantasy that shows great veneration to the ocean and all its inhabitants, from tiny krill to clever octopi to the massive cetaceans. Ceph, a scientist from the deep sea, discovers that the time current is slowing down and hears of these new types of fish, humans, who are wreaking havoc on the environment. Iliokai, a whale rider like a selkie, has answers of her own and works with Ceph to prevent a different marine ecological disaster going too far in the other direction. The work is compassionate, enthusiastic, full of so much love for all things beneath the sea, and full of righteous rage for ongoing climate disasters.

I’m so excited to have Rae on the blog today to talk about the lightning-in-a-bottle experience of putting this novella together, how she went about selecting the narrators, what changed in revisions, and the joy of working with venues like Stelliform and khōréō who are open to experimental works.

Buy Link: Stelliform Press

Diving into Weird Fishes

In the author’s note, you mention being heavily inspired by oceanic documentaries like Blue Planet II. Have you always wanted to write a tale that takes place in the deep or was it a lightning-in-a-bottle moment of creativity?

Very much lightning-in-a-bottle. I was joking with my kid the other day about how I was probably the least suitable person to write a story set deep, deep in the ocean. I don’t even like putting my head underwater. We were walking through “the woods” (a maintained forest park) and discussing our favorite biomes—which kinds of plants and wildlife we feel most connection with—and concluded that we are very land-based creatures, at home in temperate forest environments. Though for the record, I do like volcano biomes and deserts too. Point is, I didn’t have a lifelong fascination with the sea. Respect for the ocean? Totally. Visceral fear of tsunamis? Oh yes. I feel connected to the ocean now after the process of writing the story, but I definitely still marvel at how this story “came to me.” Me, of all people.

How did you go about crafting the narrators? Did they come from the worldbuilding and theming or did they emerge  

Ceph came from the worldbuilding. From thinking about her position in her world—deep, deep in coral cities where all evidence in her immediate environment has reinforced an idea that she’s part of a superior race of beings. Her character was built from the assumptions she would have about life and how that distorts her conception of how she fits into the wider world. Her scientific curiosity launches her up into that wider world, and even if she spends a lot of that time flailing and pouting, she does an amazing job doing the hard work of reassessing her relationship and responsibility to that “newly discovered” world.

Iliokai emerged. I’d inadvertently tapped into some uncomfortable stuff with that character, and I was delightfully surprised by some of the things she showed me—about creativity and self-sacrifice and found family. Her life experiences had also reinforced some misconceptions about her place in the world, so through her journey with Ceph and their interactions with each other, they kind of both get a shift in worldview that helped them to see what they’d been missing while they’d been going it alone. 

How much did the story change between drafts/revision rounds, if it did at all?

This one got spat out of my fingertips remarkably fully formed. All of the scenes were there since the first draft, with pretty much the same language—which doesn’t mean I didn’t agonize over every word in line edits… there was agony. Some of the middle journey scenes needed to be rearranged and restructured—Iliokai’s shark boyfriend theorizing about time gyres and the “origin” of how the shapeshifting characteristic came to be so prevalent in mermaid/selkie lore across cultures, that all came onto the page in revision. The idea of The Mother was there from the start, I knew she was down here, but the actual physical descriptions came later and as a surprise. And grounding the final chapter (before the epilogue) in a specific human character POV happened very very late in the process, which is weird because that scene feels so inevitable now.

What was your favorite scene or moment to write?

Maybe this is a bit of a spoiler, but I don’t care, I still get teary reading the scene even though I know it’s coming—and I’ve read it twenty times. I like the moment where Iliokai, who has been rescuing sea-strangers from fishing nets since she was a motherless pup, feeling alone and unlovable her whole life, she gets a moment where she realizes all that work didn’t go unnoticed and unappreciated. That the entire ocean had her back the whole time. You can still catch me ugly crying. I love that for her. For all the “tireless” activists and oldest daughters.

Onto Publishing

Is Weird Fishes your first novella?

First published novella, yes. I really love the form, both reading and writing, and there’s a lot of fun stuff happening with spec fic novellas. I generally write novel-length works—for whatever reason, my story ideas don’t lend themselves well to traditional short fiction formats—but the novella is the perfect length for a story like this. It would be difficult to sustain for longer. I wanted Weird Fishes to be read in one, maybe two deep breaths. 

How has your experience been working with Stelliform Press?

It’s been really great! I was already impressed with the work Stelliform Press was doing even before I got my up-close, first-hand experience. I admired how they’d noticed a gap in the kinds of speculative climate stories being published and went to work to fill it. That’s the way to do it! I’ve had a book out with an imprint of HarperCollins and worked with literary agents to get other projects placed, and one thing that I find so frustrating is the resigned “well, that’s just how publishing works” attitude. OK. Or maybe, I don’t know, we could try something else? Work to change how things are done? Stelliform has a lot of the difficulties and vulnerabilities that all small presses have—they’re at the mercy of distributors and supply chain stuff—but they’ve been resourceful, smart and strategic. Refreshingly transparent. And I don’t think this delicate and sharp-edged little piece-of-coral story could’ve maintained its shape in anyone else’s hands. So seriously, support small presses. Not because they need our help (which they do) but because we, as readers, need them to bring us wild stories that larger publishers seldom take risks on. If anyone has a story that fits Stelliform’s sweet niche of speculative climate fiction, I can tell you that they’re awesome to work with and really hustle to get your book out there.

What are you working on now?

Honestly? I’m treading water. Just making moves to keep afloat. Once things calm down enough to make room for creative storytelling again though, I’m looking forward to expanding on a piece of interactive short fiction that will be published in khōréō magazine March 2023. “The Field Guide for Next Time.” The short story is presented as a translation of a collaborative patchwork fabric—the weave patterns and stitch details record the lessons a future society believes important to teach their children, including reciprocal relationships to the land and each other. I’m delighted khōréō was so enthusiastic about something so experimental—we’re literally trying to make sure all the moving parts work now. But I’m also curious to see what happens if I try to give the story a more traditional novel-length narrative structure. Experiments! I keep taking things apart.

What books out now or coming soon are you looking forward to?
I just finished Ray Nayler’s The Mountain in the Sea which came out last month. I had been eagerly anticipating the release of that one, calling it “the other Rae/y’s first-contact octopus book” and I was not disappointed. There were similar themes of loneliness, exploitation of the ocean, and alien minds/cultures, but it was also nothing like Weird Fishes. That’s what I was looking for though. Another perspective on some of the ideas I’d been so deeply immersed in. To get a lot of different eyes on the problem. Most of all, I admired Nayler’s compassion for the human and other-than-human characters. A lot of reviews mention the cerebral stuff—the philosophy and sentience—but there was a lot of heart in that book.


Rae Mariz is a speculative fiction storyteller and cultural critic. Her writing inhabits the ecotone between science fiction and fantasy, and features characters finding family with others who live in the gaps between. She’s the author of The Unidentified and co-founder of Toxoplasma Press. Find her work at raemariz.com and on Twitter @raemariz.

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One thought on “Author to Author with Rae Mariz (Weird Fishes)

  1. Pingback: November 2022 Reading Recap | Jo Writes Fantasy

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