Mary Rickert’s short story collection You Have Never Been Here is one of the most disturbing books of recent years, with many of the stories touching on the abduction or victimization of children. Unsurprisingly, Rickert says she has a longstanding interest in true crime stories.
“Ever since I was young, I’ve been curious about why people behave the way they do, and what effect that has on humanity,” Rickert says in Episode 306 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.
Stories such as “Journey Into the Kingdom,” in which a customer badgers a barista to admit that she’s a ghost, or “The Chambered Fruit,” in which a teenage girl never returns from a play date with an internet friend, are so intense and gut-wrenching that many readers assume Rickert must be channeling some deep personal trauma, which she insists isn’t the case.
“I’ve been lucky,” she says. “I really haven’t experienced any of these horrible things, and I think sometimes people think maybe I had. But I haven’t. I’ve just always been very curious and concerned about the way people behave.”
She finds that there’s often hostility to the very idea of true crime stories. “There’s this thing in our society that makes people feel like, ‘If you’re watching that and eating your popcorn at the same time, you are evil,’” she says. “But then what happens is we have a society where some people are not even able to recognize evil, or unkindness, or cruelty, because it’s coming in the shape of charisma, or beauty, or attraction.”
Instead of sheltering ourselves from uncomfortable truths, Rickert thinks we should be as honest as possible about the world’s many dangers.
“It’s not bad to want to investigate evil,” she says, “and to do it in an adult, mature way, where we’re not just saying, ‘You’re going to be able to recognize evil because it doesn’t look like you.’ Because a lot of times it does.”
Listen to the complete interview with Mary Rickert in Episode 306 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Mary Rickert on being a starving artist:
“It was odd for me to say to somebody, ‘I don’t have food, and no I don’t know that TV show’—because of course I didn’t have a TV. And so many people would offer me their TVs, but not really understand the food thing, and as I say, it was my responsibility. I was not very good at putting my life together during that time, but I got through it. And I felt like I learned, during that period, about how a person can say one thing and the other person hears something else. I feel I have a little bit more understanding about financial struggles that people experience their entire lives, and about cultural differences. … And just to always understand [that] someone might be saying something to me, or a character might be going through something, and I should try to be aware that it’s hidden, but there.”
Mary Rickert on the fantasy community:
“I discovered the anthology The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror at my local library, and I just started checking them out. It used to be published by Tor, with Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling as editors, so I just kept checking them out and checking them out, and I was like, ‘This is what I’m writing.’ Because for years I was sending things to people who said, ‘Well, this is kind of odd.’ And then I looked through those anthologies and the things I was writing seemed to be published by [The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction], so I sent it in. And while it was out, I was thinking, ‘If that story comes back from there, I don’t know what I’m going to do’—not in any dramatic way, but in the way of like, maybe this isn’t the right thing for me, maybe I should start thinking of something else, because I feel like that’s the place for my work.”
Mary Rickert on technology:
“When computers first came on the scene, and cell phones—in my mind it all sort of appeared at the same time, which I know isn’t correct—but remember there was that period of time where all the conversations were about it? Everything was about this new technical thing, and then people would be saying, ‘Come look at this and I’ll show you how this works,’ and I just thought it was so boring. It just seemed like everybody was a little over-enchanted with it for quite a while. And now, to me, it seems like it’s evened out. It’s plumbing—you know, everybody has it, it works, it’s really nice to have, there’s great advantages to it, but ugh, we don’t have to talk about it all the time. We don’t have to show each other, you know, ‘Look at what my machine can do, ‘Look at what my toilet does,’ we just have an acceptance of it, which I really appreciate.”
Mary Rickert on her short story “The Shooter”:
“I have a story coming out in Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories, edited by Ellen Datlow, one of my short stories, called ‘The Shooter,’ and that should be out this year. It’s about school shootings, and I wrote it months before the [Parkland shooting], probably six months before that. I’ve wanted to write something about that [issue] for years. … I believe very strongly that writers can be activists within their fiction, and I have tried to do that in much of my work. I actually believe everybody can be activists within their work, and can decide to live in the way they believe, and create that in their own realities. And so for me as a writer, that to me is one of my tasks, is to speak on an activist level, and to try to do it well.”