Horror & Dark Fantasy

COSMIC POWERS

Advertisement

Nonfiction

Interview: Seanan McGuire

Since her first novel Rosemary and Rue was published in 2009, Seanan McGuire has written scores of short stories, non-fiction essays, songs, and nearly two-dozen novels . . . and that’s just under her own name. As Mira Grant, she has written the popular Newsflesh and Parasitology series, which include more medical horror than the works attributed to Seanan McGuire. A fan of both science and folklore, Seanan’s books include ten volumes in the October Daye urban fantasy series, the Incryptid series (which explores cryptozoology), the Wayward Children series from Tor, and the Velveteen Vs. superhero stories. She is a recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, a multiple nominee and winner of the Hugo Award, and has been named to Publisher Weekly’s Best Books of the Year (for Feed, the first book in her Mira Grant-authored zombie Newsflesh series). She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest, and is a frequent blogger (visit seananmcguire.com).

You were well known in convention filk circles before you were a published author. How much did that help you create your career as a writer?

Impossible to say! It meant that I already had a presence at conventions, and was comfortable appearing on panels and interacting with people in that sort of setting . . . but it also meant I already had a presence at conventions. Some people were more than happy to write me off as “just another filker.” I know some folks who will say that my success was down to the filk community supporting me, and while I never want to discount that, ever, my worst-selling book has sold more copies than my best-selling album, by quite a large margin. So I think we’re looking at a different sort of scale here.

Certain phrases (“pretty little dead girl”) and themes (plague and quarantine, for example) appear in both your songs and your books. How do these two art forms bounce off each other in your world?

The phrase “pretty little dead girl” originated in the song of the same name, which eventually—when I was asked by author Jennifer Brozek to be a “universe author” for her online dark fiction magazine, The Edge of Propinquity—led to the stories that would become Sparrow Hill Road. So that’s your answer in a nutshell. I write songs about seeds, and sometimes they sprout into something that needs more room, which results in me writing a book and getting exasperated looks from everyone around me.

In your first novel Rosemary and Rue, the protagonist October “Toby” Daye tells her fiancé, “I love you more than fairy tales.” Just how influential have fairy tales been on your work?

Extremely.

Your October Daye series, which started in 2009, has become one of the most successful in the urban fantasy genre. Do you think you’ll always be interested in writing about Toby Daye and the world of Faerie?

Yes and no. Yes, I will always want to write about Faerie; yes, I will always be interested in writing stories about Toby; no, I will not always be writing about her. By the time we reach the end of her story—and there is an end—any of the characters who are still standing will have absolutely earned a break. I don’t like forcing characters to come out of even halfway-happy retirement. It seems unfair.

Your first book as Mira Grant, Feed, came out in 2010. Did you ever consider putting that out as Seanan McGuire?

I always knew I probably wouldn’t be able to, because marketing is a thing. By putting another author’s name on the cover, even if I am completely open about the pseudonym, I create the space for the subject matter to be drastically different.

How did you choose the pseudonym “Mira Grant”?

As that is a very long story and a very complicated horror movie pun, I generally don’t like to answer this particular question. Sorry!

Mira Grant is said to have “an unholy fondness for . . . the accouterments of Halloween.” Does she have a lot of those?

Oh, so very many. I mean, Mira is me, and I am a Halloweentown Princess, so it’s sort of unavoidable.

The Newsflesh series is about a zombie apocalypse. Have you always been interested in zombies? Did you ever worry about Feed getting lost in the zombie market, or are zombies popular enough and such a malleable icon that there’s always room for more that’s good?

This is a bunch of questions! So: I have been interested in zombies since I was a child, when my mother did not always monitor my television consumption as well as perhaps she should have. I wasn’t worried about Feed getting lost in the zombie market: I was too busy worrying about it getting published at all. Remember that it was only my third book published, and I was still fresh and new and full of panic. As long as you have something interesting to say, there’s always room for zombies.

In the Newsflesh trilogy, bloggers are the ones who are active and spreading the word about the zombie outbreak. Do you see bloggers as being important in real times of crises?

Well, again, Feed was written in 2007, sold in 2009, and published in 2010. The internet has changed a great deal. I think microblogging is more important now than it was then; I also think people are less open about their biases, or at least less willing to warn when there’s a chance that warning people “hey, this is a _____ blog” might lose them hits. What it means to be a blogger has shifted.

While other authors have moved from blogging to social media outlets like Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, you’ve maintained an active presence on LiveJournal, one of the oldest blogging platforms. How important is blogging to you?

I like being able to find stuff.

You received hate mail—including rape threats—when a publisher delayed an e-book release. Did that make you question your social media presence or your relation to your readers?

As I said at the time: I do not believe most of those messages came from my readers. I’m not egotistical enough to think that everyone who enjoys my work is sweet and good and helps little old ladies made of kittens across the street, but there’s being a normal human being with a normal human temper, and then there’s writing an author you supposedly enjoy reading and saying some of the things that were said to me. I think the situation got posted to a message board somewhere, and the jerks came out to play.

In Deadline, the protagonist complains about the suggestion that zombies be called “post-Kellis-Amberlee amplification manifestation syndrome humans.” Do you ever worry about political correctness in regards to your work?

There’s a big difference between being what some people mean when they say “politically correct”—when it’s used to mean “people are restricting my speech, that’s not fair, how dare they, why can’t I say what I want”—and being thoughtful about my language. There’s no need to use a word that will cause someone pain when it’s not intentional, and we’re all learning, all the time.

Your Incryptid books deal with cryptozoology. Are urban legends and belief in the existence of unproven creatures our modern version of fairy tales?

No.

Your Parasitology trilogy—in which parasites are the force of apocalypse—is one you’ve indicated you were ready to end at a certain point. Is it hard for you to let go of characters or themes that you’ve built up over a series of books?

I really wanted to write something that had an actual end point, and gosh, I managed to do it. I am very proud of me.

Do authors almost need to create series to make a real living these days?

I have no idea. I have never been an author who didn’t write in series form. That’s how my brain works. Maybe I’d make more if I mostly did stand-alones. Maybe my career benefits from having a bunch of series, with the attendant backlists. I cannot say either way.

You’ve mentioned before that you’re a lot smarter at writing books now than when you started. What have you learned as a novelist?

I am much better at putting 100,000 to 165,000 words in a coherent line without needing to make my characters miss the obvious or throw unnecessary roadblocks in their way to make them take longer to get to the end goal.

You’ve written a number of non-fiction essays about aspects of Doctor Who. What is it about Doctor Who that obviously speaks to you?

Um. In the case of those essays, what spoke to me was someone saying “hey, you watch Doctor Who and you have lots of thoughts about media, we will give you money to write them down for us.” I’ve been watching Doctor Who since I was three.

In 2013, you received five Hugo nominations (two as Mira, three as Seanan). How floored were you when you first found out?

Totally floored.

You have a new novella, Final Girls, coming out from Subterranean Press. Final Girls deals with the theory of healing psychological wounds by reliving horror movie scenarios in virtual reality. Can horror movies offer any form of healing in everyday life?

Some people believe that they can. Catharsis is a powerful thing.

Seanan and Mira both have new books out. Tell us first about Seanan’s Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is about ghosts and grief and giving up and giving in and letting go. It’s very dear to me. I think it’s going to be dear to some other people as well, and really, that’s what matters most of all.

And Mira has out the collection Rise: A Newsflesh Collection. Can this collection be enjoyed by someone unfamiliar with the Newsflesh novels, or does a new reader really need to start with Feed?

I will never, ever recommend coming in on the middle of a series. For one thing, the author will shorthand, using what’s come before. For another, unless something has gone very wrong, the author will improve as they go along. So if you like Feed, wow, do you have a treat ahead of you, and if you don’t, at least you found out early. Rise, on the other hand, assumes knowledge of certain events, and spoils them in the process. Which could make it potentially unsatisfying.

Enjoyed this article? Get the rest of this issue in convenient ebook format!

Lisa Morton

Lisa Morton is a screenwriter, author of nonfiction books, award-winning prose writer, and Halloween expert whose work was described by the American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening.” Her most recent books include Ghosts: A Haunted History (which The Times Literary Supplement said “excels at presenting us with instances of the persistence of belief, across all times and cultures”), and the short story collection Cemetery Dance Select: Lisa Morton. A lifelong Californian, she lives in North Hollywood, and can be found online at lisamorton.com.