Ling Ma, Author of “Severance,” Talks About Her New Speculative Short-Story Collection, “Bliss Montage”

“I didn’t know where the story was headed, but that one wrote itself very quickly.”

Ling Ma (Courtesy Ling Ma)

“Making love with a yeti is difficult and painful at first, but easy once you’ve done it more than 30 times,” begins “Yeti Lovemaking,” one of eight short stories featured in Ling Ma’s new collection, Bliss Montage (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 240 pages, $25).

“‘Yeti’ was a story that came about while I was in my 20s going through a breakup,” Ma tells WW. “I was thinking that I’d like to just go through some sort of transformational process where I can just get rid of the pain of a breakup. I just thought this idea of yeti love making was kind of fun and kind of stupid.”

“Stupid” isn’t a word readers typically associate with Ma, who will appear in a virtual conversation with Alexandra Kleeman hosted by Powell’s on Sept. 15. Her first novel, Severance (about an unfulfilled Bible product coordinator who becomes one of Earth’s last survivors after an infection wipes out the human race) won the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Fiction—and offered a brilliantly dark-humored look at the millennial condition.

While not all the stories in Bliss are about broken relationships, they are a running and often painful theme. In “Yeti Lovemaking,” for instance, the narrator addresses the story to her ex, detailing the yeti night that happens shortly after their breakup—signifying the protagonist’s entry into a new phase of her life.

When Ma was writing “Yeti,” she had just read St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, the first short-story collection by Portland author Karen Russell. “I remember interviewing Karen Russell like back in the day—and I’m sure she doesn’t even remember this, I was like 24 or something—but talking to her and reading that book kind of got me down thinking about writing more speculative fiction,” Ma says.

Relationships and speculative storytelling are also at the heart of “Los Angeles,” the opening story in Bliss Montage. “Los Angeles,” which came to Ma in a dream, features a female narrator married to a bajillionaire who makes enough money to house all 100 of the narrator’s ex-boyfriends. “It was partly the fantasy of never having to say goodbye to your exes—and, of course, that’s not necessarily a good thing,” Ma says.

As with all of Ma’s stories, “Los Angeles” takes a turn. “I did not know, starting out, that it was about abuse,” she says. “I didn’t know where the story was headed, but that one wrote itself very quickly.”

Ma is a master of creating emotive, high-stakes narratives set in memorable worlds. An especially gripping example is “G,” a story about a toxic and borderline romantic friendship between two girls who take a pill that makes them invisible. “If you’re just gonna do the drug element and get high, you might as well step it up a little bit,” Ma says. “Do something more magical with it.”

Ultimately, Ma believes that Bliss Montage is more warm-blooded and mammal than Severance, which she describes as reptilian. “I hope people enjoy the stories,” she says. “I do feel like they could be very comforting to someone in the right life moment.”

SEE IT: Ling Ma will be in a virtual conversation with Alexandra Kleeman. 5 pm Thursday, Sept. 15. Free. Register for the Zoom event at

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