"I tried three times in my youth to write,” Fairbanks author David Marusek said. “And something always held me back.” Then, in 1986, when he found his life at a crossroads. “I said to myself, ‘What a perfect time to finally start writing.’ And that’s when it happened.”
Since that time, much more has happened for Marusek, now an internationally renowned, award-winning science fiction author. But even before then, his life was far from dull.
Marusek was born in Buffalo, New York, but his father, a World War II vet, kept moving the family west in increments. His father’s dream home was California, where they landed when Marusek was 16.
After high school, Marusek attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, earning a social anthropology degree. But what he really wanted was to escape the state. “I didn’t wait around for my graduation ceremony,” he remembered. “I got on the freeway and hitchhiked north.”
After a brief stay in Seattle, he kept heading north, reaching Juneau in June 1973. “The first day I arrived in Alaska,” he said, “I knew I had arrived. That this was a place.”
Marusek spent the summer as watchman for an abandoned cannery on Chichagof Island, then worked as a hospital attendant that winter. Then, while keeping Alaska as home base, he headed to Poland at the nadir of the Cold War for a language course directed at those like himself who trace their ancestry to that country. Next he traveled Europe, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, as well as in Iran and Afghanistan during an era when tourism in those countries was possible.
Marusek returned to the United States and Alaska in 1975. He took some nursing classes, spent more time overseas, got married, had a daughter, and by 1980 was living in Long Lake near McCarthy. While he left the area by the time of the 1983 massacre that took place there, he knew most of the victims, and would one day pay homage to them by basing characters on them in his books.
Marusek moved to Fairbanks in 1981, where he’s mostly been based ever since. He first did display advertising for the News-Miner, then went to work at Express Copy and Graphics in 1986, where he became the second person in town to learn the then very new PageMaker software program that would revolutionize desktop publishing. This led to work for the University of Alaska, where he also began teaching courses on emerging graphic design programs.
“Graphic design has been a good workhorse for me,” he said. “It’s supported my writing habit for 25 years.”
By this time his writing habit was taking precedence. During the early 1990s he honed his craft and attended workshops, culminating in his being selected to participate in Clarion West, an annual science fiction writers conference that takes just eighteen students a year and places them under the tutelage of top writers in the field of speculative fiction, as well as bringing them together with editors. “I learned in six weeks probably what would take two semesters in a university course.”
Marusek sold his first two short stories as a result of the workshop, a non-genre piece that ran in Playboy, and his first science fiction sale, “The Earth is On the Mend,” which the highly regarded author and editor Gardner Dozois purchased for Asimov’s Science Fiction. “The Clarion Workshops, they got my career off the mark,” Marusek said.
These were followed by other works, including his most widely known story, published in 1999. “The Wedding Album is a novella, it’s 21,000 words I think, and it took me a year to write it. Which you would hardly think was worth it. Spend a year on short fiction,” he said. “But it continues to be sold and resold. It’s the bestseller of my career so far.”
The story, which won the Sturgeon Memorial Award, has been translated into multiple languages and has attracted attention from film producers in Hollywood and abroad.
Marusek, meanwhile, turned to writing full length novels. During the first decade of the new millennium, he published “Counting Heads,” and its sequel, “Mind Over Ship,” the latter of which received the Endeavor Award.
In recent years, Marusek has been working on his ongoing series, “Upon This Rock,” the third volume of which has just been published. Set in the fictional Alaska town of McHardy, which is clearly patterned on McCarthy, and drawing off of widely publicized events that transpired there during the aughts, the series follows the residents of the town, a family of religious fundamentalists, and Alaskan politicians as they contend with space aliens and much more. And that’s before it gets really weird.
While the books are loaded with pointed satire, Marusek said the storyline itself also celebrates a town he still feels deeply connect to, and offers a recognition of the difficulties and tragedies the community has endured. “I did it because I had all of these memories that were just so fresh from living at Long Lake. And all of those people that I met. And all of the stories they told me. It was in my inventory, but going to waste.”
He stressed that the McHardy he has created reflects McCarthy as he experienced it in 1980.
“I’m not writing about today’s McCarthy, I’m writing about pretty much my life in Alaska. I’m putting a lot of myself into this.”
“Upon This Rock” is set to run for one to two more volumes. Then, Marusek said, he plans to scale back. “After this series is finished, I don’t intend to ever write another novel. It’s just too much investment. I’ll stick with short fiction and novellas. Because even they take me a long time.”
Whatever comes next, it will undoubtedly continue to incorporate Marusek’s combination of wit and imagination.
“My preferred style of writing is acerbic humor, tongue-in-cheek, satire,” he concluded. “That seems to be the way I roll.”
David Marusek’s latest novel is titled “Upon This Rock Book 3: Consider Pipnonia.” He can be found online at www.marusek.com.
David James is a freelance writer who lives in Fairbanks. Creating Alaska is an ongoing series documenting the lives of artists and creators in Fairbanks. Feedback and suggestions for future interviews can be emailed to email@example.com.