VP Profile #20: Marion Engelke

Marion Engelke is a praticing psychotherapist who just moved to Hamburg, Germany to get married. She is also a fantastic writer.

Tamago: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Marion: I don’t remember ever wanting to be a writer. What I wanted was to write stories as gripping as the one I’d just finished reading.

Writing seems the truest form of being me. I don’t feel that there’s a choice involved, only the courage to become who I am. And getting better at it.

As a child, I was a voracious reader. Back then, I’ve found more comfort and advice and friendship in stories and books than I got from the people around me.

That sad state of affairs has changed, thank goodness, but it has shaped who I am today: a writer.

I’ve found the courage to write my first novel ten years ago, in my mid-thirties, shortly after I’d made the jump into self-employment as a psychotherapist. Getting better at it is an ongoing process.

Tamago: What is your favorite genre to write in? Why?

Marion: What I am inspired to write seems to depend on where I am, as if stories grew from the soil like trees. I seem to have a strong sense of place, of genus loci. That’s why my favorite genre for now is urban fantasy. I like to walk through a city, and watch, and listen, and scent and find a city’s stories and put them into words. As I’ve moved from one city into another recently, I’m curious of what that move will do to my writing process.

Tamago: Does your professional career in psychology impact your writing?

Marion: The biggest impact is that my job as psychotherapist limits my writing time. But then again, as a means of earning my living it’s not too bad. I decide when and how much I work and being my own boss suits me.

Other than that: My wife thinks that I’m doing a better job as a therapist because I am a writer. She says she would prefer a therapist who is passionate about writing novels over one who is passionate about listening to other people’s problems.

I’m not so sure, but as she is a wise person, she may be right.

Tamago: Which writers are your influences?>

Marion: I find that any story that moves me deeply makes me want to answer with a story of my own. Ten years ago, when I embarked on writing my first novel in earnest, it was Robin Hobb’s Farseer novels that inspired me to do so. Other author’s whose stories have touched me like this are: Nicola Griffith, Elizabeth Bear, and most recently N.K Jemisin. Earlier influences are Ursula K. Leguin and Dorothy Leigh Sayers. I admire Ms. Sayers for her ability to characterize with a few lines of dialog.

I prefer stories with queer characters and subtle emotional layers and good prose. Sarah Waters and Charles de Lint come to mind. As a young adult Hans Bemman’s “Stein und Flöte” was a very important book, not that I ever want to write a tome of 800 pages in that fairytale voice of his. As a child my most beloved book was Astrid Lindgren’s “Brothers Lionheart”.

Cathie Dunsford and her partner Karin Meissenburg taught me much about the spiritual dimension of the writing process.

Does your composing process vary between English and German writing? Does being a native German speaker influence your English writing?

Marion: I’ve always had an affinity for English and during the last twenty years I’ve easily read more fiction in English than in German. All that reading makes me rather fluent, I think. Still, when it’s a matter of subtle nuances and complex sentences, I can express myself better in German. As a result, my English writing tends to shorter sentences and more action, which can be an advantage.

Lines of dialogue often come to me in English and I have the hardest time to translate them back into German.

When I translate something I’ve written in German (and that’s more a matter of rewriting than truly translating the sentences) the text usually emerges leaner and more straightforward than the German original. Sometimes I think of translating as an unusual kind of editing. It’s a joy to be able to write in two languages.

Tamago: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start writing?

Marion: Prepare for a kind of madness and good luck.

Tamago: What was the most valuable part of the Viable Paradise writing experience for you?

Marion: Coming home with confidence in my ability to write in English.

Tamago: Where do you hope to be in five years as a writer?

Marion: I hope to be able to write a good plot and have at least one novel published.

Tamago: What is your dream writing project?

Marion: Well, the good thing about dreaming up your own stories is that you can write whatever you want. For me there’s nothing like a dream writing project, there’s only the next writing project. As I have just now too many unfinished stories floating around, I need to finish or retire the lot of them before a start a new one.

The new one will be an urban fantasy novel set in Hamburg, the city I moved into a few weeks ago. I’m looking forward to taking long walks through my new city’s streets, learn about her past and present, and find the story idea that suits her.

Tamago: What are you working on right now?

Marion: I haven’t written enough words to count them since April. Instead of writing, I got married, moved from Berlin to Hamburg, sold my practice in Berlin and bought a new one. All the space in my brain was taken up with organizational details. No room left room for breeding stories.

I hope to be back to a proper writing routine come November, though. I’ve been working on an urban fantasy novel set in Berlin for some years now, and at Viable Paradise Jim MacDonald said that he saw that I will work on it until I get it right.

Well, I’m not there yet. Come November, I’ll take the Berlin novel apart and recycle some of its chapters as short stories featuring an involuntary witch and the ghost of an elk. The rest needs to be rewritten (again). I hope that the next draft will work (at last).

I’ve had the good fortune to read that Berlin novel in its last incarnation, and my hope is that some of those characters resurface. It was moody, broody,

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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