Chatting with Sebastien de Castell, Author of Way of the Argosi

Here at Signals from the Edge we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about sci fi subgenres and the best science fiction shows on TV. But, sometimes it’s important to branch out and explore other speculative fiction.

That’s why we met up with Sebastien de Castell, the renowned fantasy author of Traitor’s Blade to discuss his latest novel, Way of the Argosi.

author interview Traitor's Blade

Isaac Payne: How did you get started writing?

Sebastien de Castell: I’m one of those terribly disingenuous writers who barely wrote a thing in their youth and yet always wanted to see a book on a shelf with my name on it. But I didn’t start writing seriously until I was about twenty-seven. I was making my living playing in a rock & roll band, performing songs like “Brown-Eyed Girl” and “Mustang Sally” three times a week. We weren’t making a lot of money; we were surviving. The band started falling apart, I was feeling creatively stifled, so I did what I always do in those situations: I went to the library.

Libraries are like cathedrals to me. There’s no particular god to pray to, but you can always find wisdom there and a path forward. In my case, I found this cardboard box of twelve book tapes by Ralph McInerny, who was quite a renowned mystery author. The cassette tapes were part of a course called Let’s Write a Mystery. It was really bizarre; he speaks like a 1960s science professor while he’s writing a mystery novel alongside you, and yet, somehow, it worked.

I’m one of those people who struggles to follow through on things they start, but Ralph’s patient, plodding voice kept me going. Within a few months I’d written a mystery novel called Skeletons in the Cloister. It was terrible.

But writing that novel was revolutionary for me. It changed the way my brain worked. People seldom talk about the benefits of writing a novel—any novel—regardless of how it turns out. Part of the reason is that we live in the world of self-publishing and so it feels like everyone’s publishing books and therefore the accomplishment seems less notable.

But what I talk about to new writers is that when you struggle through drafting your first book, it changes your brain in the same way that training to run a marathon changes your body. You don’t run a marathon to win your first time, you run a marathon because doing so changes your body into one that can run marathons. It’s incredible.

And writing a novel does the same thing. That process alters your brain into one that can envision and create entire novels. Nothing ever feels quite so difficult after that first book. I honestly thing one of the best ways to advance in your career—whether it’s as a writer, a teacher, tax accountant, or just about anything else—is to write your first novel. Big, complicated problems become far more manageable to a brain that’s adapted itself to writing an entire book.

So, after that first novel I wrote, I was intrigued. Years later, I participated in the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest, and for three days straight I wrote a novel. And, I still had time to live my life; I slept great, I played a gig, I went for a run. And in those three days I wrote 44k words of what would later become Traitor’s Blade and launch my career as a full-time novelist.

IP: That’s such a great story. You know a lot of writers say “Oh, I started writing when I was fifteen and never stopped” but it seems like you kind of had a late start. When did you reach that point after writing your first one or two novels that you realized your dreams of having a book on the shelf was a realistic goal?

SC: I had a strange upbringing because my mother was a bit on the crazy side. When I was 9-years old, right after my father had passed away, my mother brought my brother and I together. She said that our father’s pension wasn’t enough to live on and that she was going to do the easiest thing she could think of to make money, and that was to write romance novels.

It’s a preposterous statement by any measure.

My mother’s sense of romance, as a staunchly British woman who lived through World War II, was that above all else, romance should be sensible. She wrote a couple of books and nobody published them. But somehow, my nine-year-old brain persisted and I always had the principle of “you can do this, it’s just a function of work”.

The greatest unfairness in publishing is that if you’ve been trained by society to think that you don’t fit or that you don’t have anything important to say, you’ll forever be at a disadvantage. In a lot of ways, it’s game of bluster.

When you’re trying to get someone to read your book, you have to have a degree of overconfidence about you. I see people at writing conventions who meet an agent and are terrified to pitch their book. I understand why, but they’re at a huge disadvantage when compared to all the arrogant people who aren’t afraid to take advantage of every opportunity.

You only really get better as you go because you have more life experiences, but you have to have confidence to give yourself permission to take those first steps.

I go through writers’ block a lot and points where I think “I don’t know if this book’s good enough, how did I write this book, it feels like someone else wrote it”. But if you accept that it’s a function of work and keep trying, anyone can write a novel.

When someone says to me, “I’d love to write a novel, but I don’t have the talent”, I ask them, “Can you write a good opening sentence?” I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t write a compelling opening sentence; it just comes down to how many tries you need to get there. The great thing about being a writer is that you can have all the tries you want to get to something beautiful.

You get the opening line, you can write the next line, and then you can write a scene. If you can write a scene, you can write a book.

IP: I saw on your website that you’re pretty involved as a musician, does that love of music inspire your writing of fiction?

SC: Music plays a strong role for me. I’ve been trying to understand myself better, what makes me tick, and I’ve found that music has a profound impact on my mood. As someone who has a tendency for drifting off into daydreaming, music is a potent focusing drug that pushes me towards coming up with actual scenes or characters.

Music is a great way to build up a character in your mind. It’s perilously easy to unintentionally plagiarize characters from books or movies or video games, but songs inspire me to construct characters not just out of the lyrics, but from the performance itself. The melody and rhythms can propel you into imagining a character in a setting that has nothing to do with the literal meaning of the song, and so becomes something new and fresh.

Alternately, a song’s influence on me can be extremely direct. For example, in Traitor’s Blade there’s a thing called the Blood Week, which people tell me is like The Purge even though I’ve never seen that movie. Anyways, Falcio, who is this swashbuckling magistrate, is protecting a young girl who is the target of the killers. He’s forced to stand there while the time ticks down because nobody can do anything until sundown. He’s just preparing for this incredibly difficult fight.

There was this song titled “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell, and it was the theme for Casino Royale. The song feels like . . . like this swordfight that could unleash at any moment. At one point, before the fight breaks out, Falcio even uses the line, “You know my name.”

So, music has always been both a direct and an indirect influence for me. When I’m really lost in terms of how to make a story work, I’ll go looking for a song to trigger the emotional state I need for inspiration. As a writer you’re always looking for those things that lets you engage with a different state of consciousness. For me music is that method.

IP: For whatever reason while reading your most recent book, Way of Argosi, I got flashbacks to reading David Eddings, specifically The Belgariad. Are you familiar with his work?

SC: I am! I read The Belgariad as a kid and really enjoyed it, though it never turned the way I wanted it to. I was more prone to grudges than Garion was. I remember then he figures out that Polgara, his aunt, has been lying to him about something, and I was so mad. He forgives her two chapters later and I shouted “no way!”.

But that’s interesting, I hadn’t seen parallels between Way of Argosi and The Belgariad, but you’re probably right, because Eddings’ work was one of the few fantasy series I read as a kid.  


IP: What does your writing process look like? Are you a one draft and done kind of guy, or do you take multiple drafts to get it the way you want it?

SC: I have the most unsatisfying answer in the world, which is that every book follows a different process.

When I say that, I sound like I’m devising the most perfect process for each book, but it’s the exact opposite: picture a guy who doesn’t know how to go about writing his next book and is waiting for the right plan to appear by process of elimination, having failed all other ways to write it.

Sometimes a book will take me 2-3 years, and I’ll write 8 other books while working on that one. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

I once wrote a book in a month. It was what I call a “for me” novel. Actually, it has a much less polite name, but let’s stick with “for me” to avoid offending anyone.

In a relatively short career, I’ve had 12 books published and been translated into fourteen languages. I’m incredibly fortunate to be earning a living as a novelist. But as time goes by, you start to get a lot of voices in your head you might not want there: the voice of your agent who is trying to help you on your career; the voice of editors, who in recent years have become increasingly more afraid of publishing anything that might offend anyone for any possible reason. It’s not even about political correctness, it’s more about how words or scenes might be misinterpreted or projected on a current societal problem and viewed as a “response”. And there’s the voices of readers who adore certain characters or hate others or wish you’d write this book instead of that and . . . it all becomes overwhelming.

These voices are usually from people who love your work and want to help you succeed in your career, but it can become very inhibiting. A better novelist than I would ignore it all, but the only way I know how to deal with getting these voices out of my head is to occasionally sit down and write a “for me” novel.

The For Me novel is my way of saying, “I going to write whatever the hell I want”. I allow myself all the tropes, clichés I feel like employing. I don’t give a damn if a scene might be misinterpreted or deemed problematic. It’s my novel, after all, and if I spend the whole time worrying about who will or won’t like it, I’m really writing somebody else’s novel, and that’s just not satisfying.

I meet new writers who get stalled because they’re constantly inundated with declarative statements about what’s cliché, who can write what, who can say or think what. It’s not about where someone sits on the political spectrum, because everyone is being inundated with opinions about what fiction should look like. Maybe some of that is even a good thing to keep us thinking about the effect of our books. But for me, I need a way to reconnect with who I am as a writer, and the way to do that is to write something that has no regard for what’s popular or even acceptable and probably isn’t—and here’s the important part—publishable.

And it’s helpful! For newer writers, the worst thing about trying to write your first novel now, you’re constantly facing these kinds of opinions and statements. If you love Twilight, you’re constantly being told Twilight sucks. But if you love sparkly vampires but Twitter is making you think, “I better not write about that,” then you’re allowing other people’s opinions to deny your creative impulses.

So, whenever I’m asked what my one piece of writing advice is, I tell people to write the book you most want to read, but do it as boldly as you can possibly imagine. Don’t back away from the things you most care about, because if you do, you’ll end up writing a lukewarm novel that doesn’t offend anyone and nobody wants to read.

IP: For new readers who might not have picked up one of your books before, where would you suggest they start with your work?

SC: If you’re an adult reader into swashbuckling fantasy with a dark edge, Traitor’s Blade is a great place to start. It’s a four-book series, with a new series coming out next year.

If you’re more into magic or young adult, start with Spellslinger. It’s a magical fantasy adventure full of trickery, intrigue, and it even has a murderous, thieving, talking squirrel cat.

Way of Argosi is also a good place to start if you’re looking for a one-off book to test the waters. When I finished the manuscript, I was surprised to find it turned out as a sort of YA fantasy Dickens novel.

If you’re into audiobooks, all my books are in audiobook format. I’ve been blessed to have two of the best narrators in the business: Joe Jameson and Kristin Atherton. I literally cried when I hear Kristin’s reading of Way of Argosi.

author interview, spellslinger

IP: What kind of projects are you currently working on? And can readers expect to see more stories from the Greatcoats or Spellslinger universes?

SC: The Court of Shadows is a new series set in the Greatcoats universe, it takes place right after the events of the first Greatcoats quartet. It delves a bit more into magic than we’ve seen in Greatcoats, and a bit more intrigue as well.

When I was talking with my editor about this series, I said let’s do something that’s like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where you can watch it in any order you want. I hadn’t really seen that done in a fantasy series, (though it probably has been and I just haven’t come across it), but I wanted to explore that dynamic.

You’ll be able to read the first four books in any order. You meet these characters on their individual journeys and see them come together in the final, team book. Or, conversely, you can read the team book first and then go back to see each character’s origins. Sort of like watching the Avengers movie and then going to watch the previous films.  

IP: So, Our Lady of Blades is the first book coming out in this new series?

SC: Yes, Our Lady of Blades is coming out in September, 2022. Originally, Play of Shadows was supposed to come out first, it’s already done, but then we decided it made more sense for Our Lady of Blades to be the first book we release.

Our Lady of Blades is an unusual book for me. Usually my main characters are reacting to someone else’s schemes, but this one features a mysterious duelist who comes into the story and sets her own plan into motion. As the story progresses, we learn more about her origins and the larger conspiracy that’s threatening one of the duchies in the world of the Greatcoats.

Thanks so much to Sebastien for taking the time to talk with us! You can find out more about his work and purchase his books on his website. He loves to hear from readers, so if you have a burning question, hop on over to his website or social media and let him know what you think!

If you liked this interview, check out some of the other interviews on Signals from the Edge:

Author Interview with Tristan Beiter: Understanding Speculative Poetry

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Tristan Beiter, a rising star in the world of speculative poetry.

I’ve been following Tristan’s journey as a poet for a few years, and had a chance to ask him about his thoughts on speculative poetry as a genre, his favorite poets, as well as his upcoming work.

Author Bio:

Tristan Beiter is a speculative poet originally from Central Pennsylvania now living in Rhode Island. He holds a BA in English Literature and Gender and Sexuality Studies from Swarthmore College and an MA in the Humanities (emphasis in Poetry and Poetics) from the University of Chicago.

His work can be found in such venues as Abyss & Apex, Fantasy Magazine, Liminality, Bird’s Thumb and others. When not reading or writing, he can be found doing needlecrafts, crafting absurdities with his boyfriend, or shouting about literary theory. Find him on Twitter at @TristanBeiter

Isaac Payne: A lot of people have different definitions of speculative poetry, and some consider it to not even be a genre, as the nature of poetry is so non-linear and experimental that all poetry could come off as speculative. What does speculative poetry mean to you?

Tristan Beiter: That’s a great question. I’m sure there are panels I haven’t read, but I’ve read all of the discussions I have been able to find about what is spec poetry. These include the panels in Strange Horizons and a bunch of blog posts on the topic. This was a main issue during my Master’s thesis, it’s “what do I mean when I say speculative poetry?”

And the answer I came to, based on all the discussions and my own feelings as a writer, is that in some ways its very simple but also very difficult.

On one hand, you can define it as narrowly as poetry published under the umbrella of spec fic. By this I mean that they’re published in spec fic magazines by authors who call their poems speculative poetry. In some ways, that’s really useful. It sets apart poetry published in literary venues from poetry published in speculative-specific magazines.

But I think that definition is too restrictive.

For me, it comes down to what role is the imaginary playing. It’s about whether the speculative element is more than a metaphor.

In the case of stuff published in genre magazines like Strange Horizons, Uncanny, and Abyss & Apex, it’s pretty straightforward. When we have a poem about a dragon, maybe it’s a metaphor, but also there’s a dragon here. If there wasn’t a dragon in it, we wouldn’t have wanted to publish it at this spec fic venue.

But it also comes down to something you can feel in the text. When they say alien, do they mean space aliens, or just a sense of otherness?

In my experience, I find that you can identify when a speculative poem by it’s feeling. It’s like the Supreme Court case with the famous porn test: ‘I know it when I see it but I can’t define it.’ You can really feel when a speculative element is there on its own terms as well as doing whatever figurative work it’s doing.

And that for me is what makes a poem a speculative poem.

IP: Who are some of your favorite poets?

TB: There are a lot of great poets out there. I’m a big fan of some of the main people we see in the speculative space. R.B. Lemberg, Amal El-Mohtar, Beth Cato, Sonya Taafee.

But I’m also reading lots of other kinds of poetry as well. I tend to gravitate toward poets like Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Lo Kwa Mei-en, and Franny Choi.

Recently I’ve been reading Anne Carson, her work is really special. And Danez Smith, Patricia Smith, and T.S. Elliot.

IP: You’ve had some of your work published in Fantasy Magazine, Liminality, and GlitterShip, and your new poem “Fountain Found in an Abandoned Garden” is out now from Abyss & Apex, right? Can you tell me more about your inspiration for that poem?

TB: That was a really fun and exciting one to work with. It started in several places at once, how many of the pieces we’re excited about as writers start.

One of the places of genesis for the very first draft was written in the advanced poetry workshop in my senior year of undergrad, fall of 2018. The assignment was to write several abecedarian poems, and those are poems where each line begins or ends with one letter of the alphabet. It’s a form I’m really excited about, it’s a major thread in Lo Kwa Mei-en’s The Bees Make Money in the Lion, which is actually the subject of my Master’s thesis.

I tried several poems, A-Z one word per line, Z-A one word per line, and A-Z where I could have as much space as I wanted.

It was the third poem that eventually became “Fountain Found in an Abandoned Garden.”

One of the other strands that goes into this poem is all of my feelings about secluded spaces, statuaries, and garden spaces. I’ve been writing about this idea a lot, and this was my most recent attempt at it.

You go to a place and it’s all alone, you’re all alone. It’s not about being lonely, I wasn’t a lonely child. I had a lot of friends and I loved them, but sometimes I wanted to go to a place and be alone, to feel like the whole world fell away.

In those spaces, I was free to be anyone and anything, not having to worry about the expectations of friendship or growing up in a small town.

There are places like that all over, but that place I’m talking about is at the base of the fire escape at the church by my house where I grew up. There are boring evergreen trees hiding this place, but it’s a tiny slate patio with a bench and flowers in pots, and the fire escape.

That space embodied an absolute freedom, and I’d describe it as a homosexual place, which makes to sense. It’s not a culturally gay space, more of a personally gay space for me. I never knew anyone who ever looked in on this place, as far as I could tell, no one had set foot onto that patio, and that is the space and energy I was tapping into with this poem.

That feeling of twin freedom and aloneness, which is everywhere, but at the same time very hard to access. It’s exciting and hopeful but also kind of sad because it requires acknowledging that the person you are in relation to other people is not, and will never be, all the person you are. The poem isn’t just about the closet, obviously, it’s about lots of other things, but it is also about what it was like when the closet was part of my life, even though it isn’t anymore.

IP: You mentioned that you studied speculative poetry for your Master’s thesis at the University of Chicago; what did you learn about spec poetry there that you hadn’t previously thought about or learned?

In some ways, everything. I really learned so much about how to approach big questions I have about genre in a more principled way. But I also learned to be a better reader, both of poems and criticism. And the really important thing was that I gained a new appreciation for the relationship between the poem as the object, the poem as the project, poetics as the question, and poetics as the theory.

It helped me clarify the ways in which writing a poem is both similar to and different from reading a poem. They were things I had been thinking about and it was largely a confirmation of instincts, but it gave more clarity to those similarities and differences.

And it helped me understand the relationship between questions of ‘how does this text work’—that’s poetics as the questions. And interpretations of how does the poem in general work, what is the poem in general?

How can I use individual poems to learn about poetry at large and vice versa.

It was a big complement to the critical side of my undergrad, which really taught me about how to read criticism and when to realize that criticism is about the author, and that’s most notable in cases like T.S. Elliot.

He’s sort of a pet case for me. I find his critical writings, things like Tradition of Individual Talent, and his Hamlet essay, to not necessarily be right. I don’t think he’s right about the poems or texts he’s writing about.

But it told me a lot about what he wanted to do in his own writing.

If you approach The Wasteland and think ‘what is this fragmented, sprawling monster,’ you can go, wait a second, T.S. Elliot thinks that literature is the invocations of the right words in the right order to produce the correct response.

What does it mean to read The Wasteland as an attempt to elicit a uniform, overwhelming response, almost as if by magic?

And so, at Chicago, I was able to go the other direction, thinking about how do I take poems and from them abstract a theory?

IP: What kind of projects are you currently working on? Can we expect to see a book of poetry from you in the future?

Although I have a chapbook manuscript, about ten poems, that I’ve been shopping around occasionally, I am nowhere near ready to assemble a full-length manuscript.

I’m excitedly awaiting the day I’m ready to embark on that project because I like thinking about poems together in context to each other. But I’m not there yet.

Right now, I’m writing a variety of things. Quite a few religious-of-sorts poems in the works, prayers and spells to a variety of invented gods. One I have no idea what to do with because it’s a doctrinal document. I like the entity I’ve invented, it’s appeared in two poems so far, but I don’t know what to do with the second one.

I’m also doing a series of poems based on “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” which is deeply unfinished, and I’m not totally sure if it will go anywhere.

I have some other unconnected projects too; I sort of fill notebooks at random. A lot has happened in the past twelve months!

Thanks to Tristan for having this delightful conversation! If you liked this interview, check out some of our other author interviews:

Galaxy’s Edge Interviews Jonathan Maberry

In the September 2021 issue of Galaxy’s Edge, Jean Marie Ward interviews Jonathan Maberry, prolific writer and editor of Weird Tales magazine.

Check out the full interview below, and if you like this content, consider subscribing to Galaxy’s Edge, where we bring you the best speculative fiction from writers new and old, as well as thoughtful interviews and book reviews.

About Jean Marie Ward

Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between. Her credits include a multi-award nominated novel, numerous short stories and two popular art books. The former editor of CrescentBlues.com, she is a frequent contributor to Galaxy’s Edge and ConTinual, the convention that never ends. Learn more at JeanMarieWard.com.
 

Confessions of a High-Output Writer

New York Timesbestselling author Jonathan Maberry credits his grandmother, his middle school librarian, and the college professor he once hated most with turning him into writer. But it’s doubtful they or his former mentors, Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, could have foreseen how far their lessons would take him. The short list of his honors includes five Bram Stoker Awards, the Inkpot Award, three Scribe Awards, multiple teen book awards, and designation as a Today Top Ten Horror Writer. His many novels and anthologies have been sold to more than thirty countries. As a comics writer, he has written dozens of titles for Marvel Comics, Dark Horse, and IDW Publishing. V-Wars, the shared world anthology series he created for IDW Publishing, has been made into a Netflix series starring Ian Somerhalder, who previously appeared in Lost and The Vampire Diaries. Maberry’s young adult Rot & Ruin series was adapted as a webtoon for cell phones and is in development for film. As if that wasn’t enough, he currently serves as the president of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers AND as editor of the iconic Weird Tales magazine.

Huffing and puffing to keep up, Galaxy’s Edge talked to Maberry about his origins as a writer, the experiences that shaped him into a multi-genre powerhouse, and the seminal role Black Panther played in his life.

Galaxy’s Edge: You’ve said many times that you always wanted to be a writer. As a young child you made stories up about your toys. What pointed you in the direction of horror?

Jonathan Maberry: My grandmother, who was my favorite blood relative, was basically a grownup version of Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter. She was that person who believed in everything. She believed in what you call “the larger world”—ghosts, goblins, and by extension, things like UFOs and alternate dimensions in the realms of fairy. She believed in everything. She was born on Halloween, and she embraced that. She only had pets that were born on Halloween. In fact, she gave me the very first pet I ever had, my dog Spooker. There’s a picture of him behind me on the wall. [My grandmother] gave him to me because he was born on Halloween.

She got me involved in the spooky stuff. But what’s interesting is, not only did she tell me all the folklore tales and some of the fictional tales of monsters, she encouraged me to read the anthropology, the science, and the commentary on why people believe these things. Even though she was very broad in her belief systems, she felt that there was a connection to our real world. She felt that what we consider to be the supernatural—or the preternatural, or the paranormal (there are different variations)—are all parts of a world we will eventually learn how to measure, and that we only know about one hundredth or 1 percent of what we will eventually know. So, she considered these things to be future science.

From there, I started learning about vampires, werewolves, and all sorts of things. Of course, I started watching the TV shows and the movies, and became hooked on those. I loved the folktales, the fiction, and the nonfiction. In fact, the first couple of books I did on the supernatural were nonfiction, exploring beliefs about the paranormal and supernatural around the world throughout history. I wrote those books because of her and because of the things she’d exposed me to as a kid.

Galaxy’s Edge: This is probably unfair to your hometown, but my mom was from Philadelphia, and I lived in the suburbs from 1969 to 1977. So, I’ve got to ask, how much did living in Philadelphia during Frank Rizzo’s tenure as police commissioner and mayor shape your vision of monsters?

Jonathan Maberry: Well, it didn’t so much shape my vision as monsters as it did shape my vision of a corrupt police state, which may have informed my love of writing thrillers with corrupt officials. [Rizzo] was not only corrupt, he was notoriously and openly corrupt. It was a reinforcement of the same skewed view of how power was used by those in power over those who didn’t have power that I had learned from home. Because I grew up in a very abusive home with a very dictatorial and violent father in a blue-collar neighborhood that was very violent. A lot of abuse.

There were also a lot of people in the neighborhood who were involved in the police department in one way or another. Rizzo was a policeman’s mayor, you know. Not a good policeman’s mayor, but a policeman’s mayor. He would have been a really good mob boss had he been in Chicago in the ’Thirties. It gave me a very jaundiced view of political power. And the fact that for him, it wasn’t even about party. It was just power. He was a manipulative sociopath in power. That’s a pattern we’ve seen elsewhere.

Galaxy’s Edge: Yes, it is. I also wondered what role did observing this abuse of power play in your writerly activism. You’re involved with multiple writers’ organizations. You founded the Philadelphia Liars Club and Writers Coffeehouses across the country specifically to help writers. Was there a connection between the two?

Jonathan Maberry: It was more of an economic thing, because in the neighborhood where I grew up—actually, in my own household—reading was not encouraged. In fact, if we were seen reading a book, the most commonly asked question was, “Are you trying to get above yourself?” My father used to ask that all the time. And of course, the thought I had was, “No, I’m trying to get above you.”

The desire to educate myself out of that environment was really strong. Not only was reading not encouraged, creative expression of that sort was viewed as impractical and something of an insult to people who are hard-working blue-collar stiffs, which is not the case. You rise to the call of your genius. Whatever you feel you do best is what you should try to do. Writing is what I always wanted to do, and I found so many other writers who had been browbeaten by everyone they knew, even well-intentioned family members, because it’s too hard, you’re not gonna make any money, you’re not gonna do this. It’s all this negative propaganda that is parroted at all levels. It comes down from somewhere, but it filters through family, from neighborhood, through high school counselors.

My high school counselor tried to talk me out of being a writer. That neighborhood, that environment, was all about getting out of school, getting into a factory, and paying the bills. That was it, and that’s doom to a writer. I mean, it’s worse than a prison sentence.

I got some unexpected help along the way from incredible writers who I met in most unlikely circumstances, Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, in particular. They didn’t need to help me. It was of no actual benefit to them. But they saw someone who was trying to write their way out of where they were and into the future they wanted. And they helped.

As an inspiration, that can’t be beat. So, whenever I had the opportunity to use my position, my connections, my experience, whatever, to help other writers move up and break through the propaganda, break through the self-doubt, into the opportunity to do something worthwhile with their skills, I took it. It’s tied also to a viewpoint that I saw a lot as a kid, but also saw reinforced during the economic downturn of 2008-2009.

There are two camps of writers. One camp seems to feel that if somebody asks you for advice, or a lead, or something, and you give it to them, that means you’re denying it to yourself. That camp feels opportunities are finite, that open doors are finite, that if you help someone else, you’re screwing yourself. It’s a very fear-based viewpoint. It’s also a very popular viewpoint. The other camp believes that if writers help other writers to become better writers, more good books will get written. Those good books will attract more book sales and more readers, and everyone will prosper.

One approach is fear-based, and the other is optimism-based. I’ve always felt that the optimism-based approach is what’s going to get us out of the mud that we’re stuck in when we grow up in an environment like that and have been propagandized like that.

Galaxy’s Edge: Your first fiction series, the Deep Pine Trilogy, drew a lot on the knowledge and love of folklore your grandmother inspired. But your later works, notably, V-Wars and the Joe Ledger series display a profoundly scientific bent. What drew you to blending science and horror?

Jonathan Maberry: Again, that started with my grandmother encouraging me to read the science, the folklore, even the medicine, to explain things. For example, a lot of the beliefs about evil spirits coming to draw the life out of a sleeping child were really ways for less educated people in earlier centuries to explain things like sudden infant death syndrome. If you look at the science of it, you can understand the belief. With that comes also understanding of the needs for [the belief]. I’ll explain with SIDS.

A healthy child goes to bed and dies. There are no marks. There’s nothing to suggest that it was harmed. But maybe the window was open, and people say, “Oh, something got in.”

But say this is the 17th century, and a child died under those circumstances. It feels so arbitrary that it puts people out of sync with their religious beliefs. Why would a loving God allow an innocent child to die like that? So, the parents go to their priest, which was the common thing to do, because the local church was the center of knowledge and where information was shared. The priest says, “Well, you must have sinned in some way, say these prayers, put up these relics, and it won’t happen again.” Sudden infant death syndrome rarely happens again within the same family. So, the next child doesn’t die after the rituals, and the people have a reinforcement of their faith.

Thus the presence of the belief in a monster that has come and taken the life of the child becomes necessary to reinforce their belief in a protective God. Reading the science of that not only gives me a historical and clinical perspective, it gives me real insight into character motivations as needs, and the way in which a story then evolves into a satisfying conclusion.

Galaxy’s Edge: Did meeting Richard Matheson have anything to do with it?

Jonathan Maberry: Richard Matheson is the biggest influence on my style. Even though I write in about a dozen different genres, almost everything I write is built on the structure of a thriller, the race against time to prevent something from happening—as opposed to a suspense, where we’re all in the moment or in a mystery we’re solving. The thriller is that race against time. {Matheson’s] novel, I Am Legend (which he gave me a copy of for Christmas 1973) is a prototypical thriller. I mean, it’s a prototype for the thrillers that came afterwards.

[In I Am Legend] something comes up. A big calamity ends the world. You have the apocalyptic element of the story. You also have a science element to the story because it was the first time that a horror story or the genre of science fiction horror used actual science to try to explain itself.

Prior to that science fiction horror like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Frankenstein made references to chemicals or galvanism without going into any detail. In I Am Legend, [Matheson] actually went into the experiments to find bacillus vampiris, which created the vampire plague. He gave us the scientific explanation, the step-by-step. That made it so much more real. The story became more riveting and more threatening to the reader, because now that line between reality and fiction is blurred. That makes it a really compelling thriller.

I’ve taken that model and applied it to almost everything I’ve written. I also use this old con man saying: “Use nine truths to sell one lie.” I build my fiction on a scaffolding of pretty solid science. I do a lot of research, so it’s harder for the reader to know when I have stepped off into fantasy. That started with Matheson and a lot of what Matheson told me when I was a kid.

Galaxy’s Edge: Fifteen-years-old is a very impressionable age, isn’t it?

Jonathan Maberry: Yes.

Galaxy’s Edge: You imprinted on him.

Jonathan Maberry: Well, I met him when I was 12. It was the middle school librarian at my school in Philly who introduced me to him, Bradbury, and others. There was a group of writers who would meet occasionally in New York, and she worked as a kind of informal secretary for them. She dragged me along, partly as baggage and partly because she knew I wanted to write. They took me on as a pet project. All of these great writers, Arthur C. Clarke and Harlan Ellison—whoever was in town—took time to give me advice, like they were competing with one another to give me the best advice that night. I’m really cool with that kind of attention. In fact, the tenth-anniversary edition of Ghost Road Blues, my first novel, has the last ever cover quotes from Bradbury and Matheson.

Galaxy’s Edge: Oh, how wonderful! Now you’re paying forward the help you received.

Jonathan Maberry: Which I should. We should all do that, because there’s not one person who has ever gotten anywhere significant without help. And often, too often, people don’t pause to explain that help was there, who helped them, or to even focus on their own gratitude for what happened. You know, it’s not all about us. It’s literally about us—the community, not the individual. I get so jazzed seeing people take that step, get that deal, or hit a list. It’s like an ongoing party.

Galaxy’s Edge: Returning to the subject of science and pseudoscience, we both grew up in a time when educators and behaviorists believed that growing minds should be shielded from the horrors of things like Weird Tales, EC comics, and Hammer Films. As evidenced by your YA titles, such as the Rot & Ruin series, you see things differently. Why is horror important for young adult readers?

Jonathan Maberry: Because horror is almost always a metaphor for things that are happening in real life. I grew up, as I said, in an abusive household, a very violent household, and a violent neighborhood. There was nobody shielding me as a kid. As a result, I think I got a more clear and well-balanced perspective on life than I would have had if I had been sheltered. Sheltering someone from immediate harm—like pulling your kid away from a hot oven—okay, that’s smart. But not allowing the kid to understand the nature of danger, the nature of heroism, the nature of survival, or all the different qualities that they will need as adults? Sheltering them from that is silly, because it’s not like once they graduate from high school, they suddenly get a download of all these survival skills. They don’t. They have to acquire them along the way.

I remember just talking to my friends as a kid. We were a lot deeper than the adults thought we were. All kids are deeper than adults think they are. To shelter them is a great way to prevent that intellectual growth, empathic growth, and societal awareness. Anytime you shelter, you blind. Anytime you allow the kid to see and then make decisions, and form their own opinions, you’re encouraging growth. It’s useful if parents are there to have conversations about it, but not to stand in the way.

Galaxy’s Edge: You’ve worked extensively in comics, television, and animation. How difficult was it to switch from writing novels and short stories to scripting comics and other broadcast media?

Jonathan Maberry: Well, I haven’t actually written TV scripts yet. I’ve had stuff adapted. I was executive producer, but I was not actually writing the scripts. I haven’t done that yet. I’m studying the form because I will be doing that.

As far as comics go, comics were a bit of a culture shock for me. I mean, I grew up with comics. I was a Marvel kid. I’ve read all the Marvel Comics. But to write them? I write very long novels. My first novel is 148,000 words. It’s a long novel where you can have long conversations with characters, long descriptions, long interior monologues, and so on. But you can’t in comics. Brevity is very important. But also with comics, you have to realize that it is no longer a solo act. With a novel, it’s you and your laptop. With comics, you write the script. You describe what’s in each panel, so you give the art direction. Sure.

But then the artist comes in, and the artist’s A game is to do visual storytelling. You have to learn how to not yield control but share the process, so that they are able to do their best work while you’re doing yours. Then the colorist, and the letterer all have artistic contributions to make. It’s a much more collaborative process. I’ve been told by friends of mine who have gone from comics to writing TV, that it’s excellent training for writing for television, because TV and film are also collaborative. I’m now in the process of pitching a TV series with a couple producer friends, and everything is collaborative. We all have strong ideas, but it’s not one person’s gig. So I learned a lot of that from comics.

One funny thing happened when I just started writing comics. I love dialogue. So I had a lot of dialogue in one of my first comics, and the artist very politely said, “At any point, would you like the readers to be able to see the art?” And I’m like, “Oops.”

It’s funny, I had already been warned about that by Joe Hill, who is the son of Stephen King, and a great writer himself. [Hill] had had almost exactly the same conversation with Gabriel Rodriguez, who was his artist for Locke & Key. Joe said, “Do your draft, and then cut it back by 80 percent.” And I’m thinking, “I don’t need to do that.” Then I got that email, and it was: “Oh, yeah, I need to do that.” The comic was better for it, by the way…

Friends of mine, like Gregg Hurwitz, who wrote Batman and a lot of TV, said, “Writing an issue of comics is very similar to writing an hour of TV drama.” Even the beats are the same, because you have to have dramatic beats for ads and page breaks, which are not that dissimilar from the beats for commercial breaks. He said, “It’s about 75 percent. If you can write a comic book, you’re 75 percent there for how to write a TV script.”

Galaxy’s Edge: Speaking of comics, I didn’t realize when I was drafting my questions that the way you got involved with the Black Panther comic was among the most important events of your life, both in terms of your introduction to the comic, and later in terms of writing it. Would you mind talking a little bit about that?

Jonathan Maberry: When I was a kid, I got involved in Marvel Comics in a big way. I was really a huge fan of Marvel, my favorite comic being The Fantastic Four. The character of the child of the Black Panther was introduced in one of the early issues. I think it was issue 54 of Fantastic Four.

My father, who was deeply racist and involved in the Ku Klux Klan, was very upset that I was reading a comic in which a black man was a king, a superhero, and a scientist. He tore the comic up. He knocked me around for even having it. But a couple of years later, I took another issue of that comic in which the Black Panther appeared to my middle school librarian, the same one introduced me to Matheson and Bradbury. I said, “I’d get in trouble if I show this to my father. Can [you] tell me about this?” And she said, “Well, that particular issue is about apartheid.” I had no idea what that was.

[I showed her] another issue that I brought with me, and she said, “That one’s about the Jim Crow laws.” She kept asking me if I knew about these things, and I didn’t, because all that had been suppressed in my neighborhood. I met no one of color until I was in seventh grade, not one person. I wound up diving deep into an understanding of racism and intolerance. As much as Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love, there was a lot of racism there. In certain parts of the city, it was pretty intense, especially in the ’Sixties. That understanding opened my eyes. You know, you have a choice. You can close your eyes and pretend the world is what you were trained to believe, or you can keep your eyes open to see the world for what it actually is.

I don’t believe in closing one’s eyes. The old nature versus nurture thing is actually an imperfect equation. It’s nature versus nurture, versus choice. Choice is a big thing. I chose to keep my eyes open.

I went diving deep into understanding racism. It changed the course of my life and split me from my father forever. Every part of my personality, every part of my understanding of the world and fairness and everything of history pivoted on that moment. It is the most important single moment of my life.

Roll forward to 2008-2009. I had just started writing for Marvel Comics, and Reginald Hudlin who is the founder of BET, an Academy Award-winning producer, and was then the writer of Black Panther, heard this anecdote. He suggested to the editor-in-chief of Marvel that when he stepped down, they have me write the comic.

Now, this was a challenge. At this point, Black writers were writing the Black Panther comic, and I agree with having Black writers write that comic. It’s the iconic, first Black superhero ever. But that child had saved my life too. It had changed me. Just as it changed the lives of a lot of Black kids who found that character, it changed my life as a White kid who found the character. And they asked me if I would write a comic which, of course, I wanted to write. I actually cried when I was told that they were offering this to me.

But also, because I had been teaching women’s self-defense for so many years, including 14 years at Temple University, they made a change in the character. T’Challa got injured in the comic, and his sister Shuri had to step up to become the Panther. So what they handed me was the feminist Black Panther comic to write, which I did for two years. It was one of the greatest honors of my career, and so much fun. And I’m pretty sure that my father was spinning in his grave at warp speed because this was everything he would have hated, and it’s everything that I became because that character help split me off from him.

It’s one of my favorite memories, and one of my favorite things to say is: “Yeah, I was part of that actual world. I was part of the Black Panther. I have my own guest membership in Wakanda.”

Galaxy’s Edge: Amazing. Simply amazing. You never know where the words you put on the page will take someone you never met.

That’s an impossible act to follow, but I do have a couple of questions left. With all the articles, books, comics, greeting cards, and everything else you’ve written, what prompted you to add editing to your resume?

Jonathan Maberry: When I got into novels, which was only 2006, I thought that was all I was gonna do. I had no interest in writing short stories. Then I was invited to write a couple of short stories for different anthologies. I liked the process, but I generally do not do a project unless I become familiar with the other players. So, I started having conversations with the editors, getting insights into what they do and seeing how much they loved it. You know, they’re the first people to read stories [they’ve commissioned] by their favorite writers. I said, that sounds like Christmas morning.

So, I started putting out feelers. But the way I started editing my World War Z anthologies was kind of funny. Max Brooks had been editing an anthology of G.I. Joe stories—the little Hasbro toys. He invited me to write a novella for it, which I did. He had originally planned to do a couple of different anthologies for that same publisher, IDW Publishing. But after [the G.I. Joe] project, he had to go and do something else.

So IDW asked me if I would like to edit the next anthology. I had just finished reading a whole bunch of shared world anthologies, and I thought, “Wow, that’s kind of fun. If I’m gonna do one, I might as well do one where I can play too.” Generally, the editor of an anthology does not contribute a story. But in a shared world, they usually create the world, write a framing story, and other people write individual stories.

So, I pitched one about a plague that turns people into vampires. It became V-Wars, my first anthology, and I loved it. I curated it. I invited those friends of mine who were really good writers, but who were also of the same emotional bent as me in that I felt they were good-hearted people, people who were generous with their colleagues, especially with newer colleagues, and played well with others. I do not work with people who are prima donnas. It’s just not worth the effort. I want people who are having fun but also professional. I fell in love with them.

I’ve edited 18 anthologies. Then later on, a producer friend, who was involved in the return of Weird Tales magazine, asked if would I be interested in coming aboard to help curate and edit some issues. I started out as consulting editor or editorial director—I think that was the first title. But by the second issue, I was actually the editor. And well, I’m working with my next two issues simultaneously.

Galaxy’s Edge: That is a heavy workload. Anything related to a periodical is a full-time job.

Jonathan Maberry: Yeah, but I had really interesting training. I went to Temple University School of Journalism, and I had a couple of teachers, notably John Hayes, who was a teacher I hated while at school, and now I wanna put him up for sainthood. He taught me how to be a high-output writer, which is a skill set. I didn’t know I would like to do that. Turns out it’s where I’m having the most fun. I wouldn’t have taken on the editorial gigs had I not felt that I could work them into my schedule while still writing three to four novels a year and short stories. I’m having a blast doing it. Yeah, it makes for some long days sometimes, but it’s a long day doing what you love. It’s not like it’s a hardship.

Galaxy’s Edge: We’re coming up on the end of the interview. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Jonathan Maberry: For any writer out there who’s reading this, the Writers Coffeehouse has, because of COVID, moved online. You can find us on Facebook at Facebook.com/groups/TheWritersCoffeehouse. It is free. It is a community of writers helping each other with no agenda other than to help each other. So go check it out on Facebook. Also, if you go to my website, JonathanMaberry.com (only one “Y”), there’s a whole page of free stuff for writers—comic book scripts, novels, samples, and so on. It’s all downloadable PDFs. Go grab what you need.

Copyright © 2021 by Jean Marie Ward.

Like our interviews? Read our conversation with qntm, author of There Is No Antimemetics Division and author Seanan McGuire!

Galaxy’s Edge Interviews Seanan McGuire

In the July 2021 issue of Galaxy’s Edge, Jean Marie Ward interviews Seanan McGuire. They discuss all manner of things, including writing, publishing, feminism, and much more!

Check out the full interview below, and if you like this content, consider subscribing to Galaxy’s Edge, where we bring you the best speculative fiction from writers new and old, as well as thoughtful interviews and book reviews.

About Jean Marie Ward

Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between. Her first novel, With Nine You get Vanyr (written with the late Teri Smith), finaled in both the science fiction/fantasy and humor categories of the 2008 Indie Awards. She has published stories in Asimov’s and many anthologies and provided an in-depth look into an award-wining artist, with her book Illumina: The Art of J.P. Targete. Her second nonfiction title, Fantasy Art Templates, marries the superb illustrations of artist Rafi Adrian Zulkarnain with pithy descriptions of over one hundred fifty creatures and characters from science fiction, fantasy, folklore and myth. A former assistant producer of the local access cable TV program Mystery Readers Corner, Ms. Ward edited the respected webzine Crescent Blues for eight years, and co-edited Unconventional Fantasy, a six-volume collection of fiction, non-fiction and art celebrating the fortieth anniversary of World Fantasy Con. She has also contributed interviews and articles for diverse publications before starting interviewing for Galaxy’s Edge magazine. Her website is JeanMarieWard.com.

FOLKLORE, PLAGUES, AND ANGLERFISH

What are award-winning, SFF writers made of? In the case of Seanan McGuire—author of the October Daye, InCryptid, Wayward Children series and more under her own name, as well as the science fiction horror novels of her alter ego Mira Grant and the children’s fantasy she writes as A. Deborah Baker—the answer encompasses music, art, anglerfish and 3 a.m. fanfiction attacks. Strange as the recipe may seem, you can’t argue with the results. To date, McGuire’s honors include the 2010 John W. Campbell Award (now the Astounding Award) for Best New Writer, the 2013 Nebula Award for Best Novella, five Hugo Awards, a record-breaking five Hugo nominations in a single year, and five consecutive Hugo nominations for Best Series—to say nothing of the seven Pegasus Awards she’s won for her filking. Eager to learn more, Galaxy’s Edge sat down with the California native a few days before the release of her latest novel, Angel of the Overpass, to talk about her earliest days as a writer, her fascination with microbial marvels, and expanding the notion of personhood on the page.

Galaxy’s Edge: When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?

Seanan McGuire: When I found out it was an option. I was a very weird child. I was credulous in some ways that sound fake to me now, even though I remember the experience, and disbelieving in other odd ways. It made perfect sense to me that lunch boxes would grow on trees, which happens in The Wizard of Oz. And if there are lunchbox trees, why wouldn’t there be book trees? I had never met an author. I had never met anyone who said they were an author. I just figured that books happened. Being a storyteller felt like too much of a responsibility for any one person. It didn’t make sense, given the breadth of stories I could experience if I went looking, that anyone would do that.

At the time, one of my favorite shows was an anthology series on the USA Network called Ray Bradbury Presents. Every episode began with this white-haired dude sitting at a typewriter pounding away. Then there’d be a ding, and he would pull a sheet of paper out of the typewriter and throw it into the air. It fluttered down and formed part of the logo.

One day I asked my grandmother, “Who the heck is that? Why is this old dude taking up like a whole minute of what could be story?”

She said, “That’s Ray Bradbury. He wrote all these stories.”

That was my bolt of lightning moment. Wait, one person made all this up? This is all fake, and one person sat down and thought of it, and that was okay? That was allowed? I pretty much decided on the spot that that’s what I was going to do.

Galaxy’s Edge: How did you get from there to your first published stories?

Seanan McGuire: A lot of fan fiction. So much fan fiction. Shortly after the Ray Bradbury Presents incident, my mother brought me this gigantic manual typewriter from a yard sale. It cost five dollars, and it disrupted her sleep for years. It weighed more than I did. I would sit down, feed my paper in, and pound away for hours. I was seven. Seven-year-olds don’t sleep like humans They’re people, but they aren’t humans yet. The idea that 3 a.m. is not a good time to start working on a giant manual typewriter that sounds like gunfire does not occur to their tiny seven-year-old brains. And since the typewriter was so big compared to how big I was, I couldn’t just type, I had to assault the keyboard. I hunt and peck at approximately two hundred forty words per minute…

Because I was writing for hours at night, I would write stories about my cats or what I did that weekend or—and this is key—about having adventures with my friends, the My Little Ponies in Dream Valley. I had no idea that a self-insert was a bad thing. I was seven. I had no idea that saying I would be good at everything the ponies needed me to be good at was being a Mary Sue. Again, I was seven. I did this for years.

The thing about writing is the more you do it, the better you’ll get. You can get good at some really bad habits. But putting words in a line, forming sentences, building sentences into a paragraph, building enough paragraphs onto a page to have a page? That’s a muscle. That’s something that you learn by doing. I turned out reams and reams and reams of not goodness, but it taught me how to put together a page.

Then I got to high school and discovered real fanfic, where you write in a universe. [Fanfic] had these weird unspoken rules, like the Mary Sue Litmus Test, and what was and was not appropriate to do. One of the first pieces of advice I was given was never write a character who looks like you, even if they’re canonical, because everyone will assume that the blonde girl writing about Veronica Mars or Emma Frost is really writing about herself, and that’s not okay. At some point, every dude I know writes about himself having magical adventures in a magical D&D land and getting all the hot elf babes. But if a blonde woman writes a blonde character or a Black woman writes a Black character or anything superficially similar to their appearance, it doesn’t matter how integral that character is to the story, it’s proof they’re sticking themselves in the story, and that’s bad. I disagree with this, in case you can’t tell.

Galaxy’s Edge: What about the little blonde girl in the InCryptid series?

Seanan McGuire: I ultimately got around the problem by making everything fanfic. Verity is basically Chelsie Hightower from So You Think You Can Dance. The InCryptid series was a response to my PA saying, “Please, write something that gets us invited to go backstage on So You Think You Can Dance.

But in the beginning I just wrote a lot of fanfic. The more fanfic I wrote, the better I got at things like plot and structure and actually writing a 20,000-word, a 50,000-word, a 100,000-word story that wouldn’t bore my readers. Eventually I started writing original fiction, which pretty much went nowhere. I would write it, I would be happy with it, and then I would revise it, because when no one’s publishing you, masturbatory revision takes 90 percent of your time.

One day, my friend Tara, who knew me from the fanfic community, said an agent friend of hers was branching out and starting her own boutique agency. And because [the agent] was from the fanfic community, she was looking for fanfic authors with an interest in their own original fiction. I sent her a copy of Rosemary and Rue. She sent me back a list of suggested revisions. I did one more revision, and she signed me. Then everything went nuts.

Galaxy’s Edge: Because you had something else in the pipe—something that became the Newsflesh series.

Seanan McGuire: The thing about writing very fast is I write very fast. When we took Rosemary and Rue to DAW, I had already finished [the] first three books in the October Daye series (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation and An Artificial Night). I also had a rough and not-so-great draft of Book Four, Late Eclipses, but I had time to revise and beat it into a shape. I also had Feed, my biotechnical science-fiction thriller. We took Feed to Orbit.

With DAW, we were very fortunate in that a good friend of mine was also a DAW author and able to give me the nepotism referral to her editor. She wasn’t inappropriate about it. She just said, “This is my friend, Seanan. She wrote a really good book. I think you’ll like it. Let me introduce you.”

At Orbit, we went through a more normal submissions process. We wound up with DongWon Song, who’s now an agent but at the time was an Orbit editor. They were the perfect editor for that series. I miss working with them.

Galaxy’s Edge: You mentioned in another interview that you took the “dragon major” in college: a double major in folklore and herpetology. How did that play into your writing and your day job?

Seanan McGuire: I’ve never had a day job that used either parts of my degree. I think that anything we do or are interested in will play into our writing. We can’t help it. It’s part of why I get kind of angry on a personal level at authors who say that fanfic is bad and you can’t do fanfic ever. Well, okay, I’m gonna go over your work and find every element that you took from Shakespeare. How dare you write fanfic? I’m gonna find every element you took from Austen or from Poe. Or from fairy tales, from the Brothers Grimm, from Disney.

Humans are magpies. We do not thrive on original thought. That’s not how we’re constructed. If you have one truly original thought in your entire lifetime, you’re about average. You’re doing well. We want to think of ourselves as these incredible original innovators of everything, but that’s not how monomyths work. It’s not how human psychology works. Everything’s a remix.

Because I studied both the so-called soft science of folklore and the hard science of herpetology, I have, to a certain degree, the flexibility of thought arising from two very different disciplines. It doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone else. It just means that I have been trained to look at things from those multiple angles. There are still ways of thought that are completely alien to me. I have no experience or background in any kind of physical handiwork. I don’t know how to fix a car. If you hand me a hammer and a nail, the odds are good that what I’ll hand you back is a trip to the ER, because I have just broken my hand. There are patterns and ways of thought that I can’t wrap my head around. But having that initial flexibility made it easier for me to switch gears as I got older.

You can see the dichotomy in the two sides of my work. When I write as Seanan, I tend to write very monomythical, very inspired by folklore, very poetic. One of my favorite copy editors says, when you copy edit my work for flow and for tone, you need to remain aware of the fact that I have never written a book in my life. What I write is 300-page poems. That’s not inaccurate. The way I build sentences, the way I phrase things and manage the rising action very much reflects the fact I was a folklore major who studied oral histories for a long time. Within a single book, there will usually be one or two phrases that I hit very often. It’s not because don’t I think my readers are clever; it’s how I assemble a narrative.

When I write as Mira Grant, [the stories] are very biological. I started out wanting her to be a horror author. It turns out she’s not, because I am so much less interested in the screaming than I am in the scalpel. I want my science to make sense, and I want my biology to make sense. That’s what makes me happy.

Galaxy’s Edge: Even when dealing with mermaids?

Seanan McGuire: Even when dealing with mermaids. The mermaids [of Into the Drowning Deep] were actually a direct attack on DongWon. When they were my editor, I would threaten to write them a book about anglerfish mermaids.

The way anglerfish reproduce is the male anglerfish will be attracted by the smell of the female anglerfish’s pheromones. He thinks she’s so sexy that, when he finally finds her, all he wants to do is eat her. So, he chomps onto her skin. This causes a chemical reaction which melts his skin and fuses him with the female. Her body will gradually absorb his until all that’s left is his scrotum.

The female now has a pair of testicles sticking out of her, and she can control when sperm is released. One female anglerfish can have hundreds of sets of testes stuck to her from men that she has effectively eaten. In terms of size, the male anglerfish is about one and a half to two inches long. The female anglerfish is the size of an alligator snapping turtle. It’s one of the biggest cases of sexual dimorphism in the vertebrate world…. The biology of my mermaids was preset by that horror.

Galaxy’s Edge: You didn’t work in herpetology, but I understand your former day job used a lot of your science background, which contributed to Feed and your all-too-plausible zombie apocalypse.

Seanan McGuire: Yep. I am a prophetic genius. The entirety of COVID-19 has been an exciting game of people telling me: “You were right about everything two years ago.” Yes, I was. Thank you. There you go.

Galaxy’s Edge: Are there more such prophecies in our future? Should we be shivering in our boots?

Seanan McGuire: Right now, I am not doing anything super pathological, in part because I lost a lot of optimism in the current pandemic.

People ask me all the time, “What do you feel like you got wrong? What would you do differently?” The answer is I had too much hope. Part of that is Feed was written and published before the real rise of Facebook, before the rise of microblogging, [at a time] when if you wanted a blog, you still had to set up a blog and usually wrote longer-form things. Readers could get an idea of who you were, your likes, your dislikes, your prejudices. You weren’t just delivering speedy sound bites of hatred and vitriol.

I like the flexibility and speed of Facebook and Twitter in terms of things like coordinating disaster response. But what we’ve seen is we’re not doing as much as we could, because we’ve all learned to hate each other in this time of super-fast microblogging, botnets and trolls.

There was a point, early in the current situation, where I posted a thread on Twitter (which is my primary habitat most of the time) about ways to protect yourself from con crud and the seasonal flu. There is a tweet in that thread which can be seen as equating coronavirus with airborne diseases.

At the time, the official position was that the disease we’re dealing with now was not in fact airborne, even though anyone who had ever worked with any coronavirus anywhere was saying, “No, it’s probably airborne. If you don’t think it’s airborne, you’re probably wrong.” The science said, “Probably airborne,” but the official public information said, “Not.”

So, I posted this tweet. It’s in the middle of a relatively innocuous thread. Hey, wash your hands, drink lots of water, sleep. I know that you don’t feel like those last two have anything to do with your health at a convention, but they genuinely do. The more well hydrated you are, the less likely you are to pick up most common crud. That sort of thing. For three days I got barraged by trolls screaming at me for being so irresponsible as to imply that this could be an airborne disease. They weren’t real people. None of them had existed on Twitter prior to a month previous. They weren’t there to engage in conversation. They were there to yell at me. That’s because it’s so easy to set up a word finder, something that triggers off a keyword and unleashes this tide of hating on people who say things you don’t like.

My pandemic response [in Feed] was founded on the idea that the news would lie to us (which we saw will happen), and that in the absence of the news, citizen scientists and citizen reporters would rise as a source of credible information. Instead, what we saw is people will rise to sell you miracle cures made from mercury and tell you that your children have COVID because they were given a vaccination twenty years ago, even though your children are eleven. It’s just bad.

I am not currently working on any diseases because part of what I enjoy about writing pandemic fiction, why it makes me happy to be Mira Grant, is that diseases fascinate me. I find them really interesting—the mechanisms by which they work, the things that we know they can do to us, the things that we’re still finding out they can do to us. They’re amazing. They’re so simple. They’re not living things. They’re basically malware. They’re just these little instruction bundles that plug into your body and go haywire.

It is easier for me not to be afraid of them if I understand them and am writing about them and having a good time. It feels a little mean to have a good time with diseases right now. The way I have always coped with the horrible diseases I created was by going, “No-no. Once enough people started dying, we would care. Once enough people were at risk, we would care.” But what I’ve seen is that far too many of the people in positions of power wouldn’t.

Galaxy’s Edge: There are those who say, if this world fails us, we should write the world we want to live in. What would that world look like for you?

Seanan McGuire: The way I would like the world to be is incredibly overly optimistic. I don’t think we’re going to get there in my lifetime. We have enough food that no one needs to be hungry. We have enough resources that no one needs to be homeless, no one needs to be sick. We have enough of everything that no one actually needs to feel like they don’t have enough. But there is a point at which anything stops being the thing itself and becomes counting coup. There are people with so much money, they could be spending money every minute of every single day of their lives and not come even remotely close to running out of money. And what do they do? Do they rent Disney World for a month? No. Do they set up a zoo full of tigers in their basement? No. They make more money because they have seen how much they are willing to exploit the world, and they want to make sure there’s no one in a position to exploit them.

I want a world where rich people pay their fair share, where everybody gets safe housing, food, clean water, medical care. Where the color of your skin is not treated as any kind of judgment on your personal character. Where the fact that people love who they’re gonna love is not treated as some kind of judgment on their character. It’s so idealistic. Every step forward is amazing, but we have the potential, as a species, to be so much better. Sometimes we aren’t because it would be inconvenient to be better right now. Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to, or it would be hard or “How can I feel like I am better than you if you have as much as me?”

Galaxy’s Edge: As opposed to seeing equality as a valid goal.

Seanan McGuire: We’ve been unequal for so incredibly long that equality really does feel like oppression to a lot of people who have been on the top of the inequality pyramid.

Galaxy’s Edge: Your fiction celebrates diversity and inclusivity. Is this your way of making the world you write shinier, or is it something that just happens?

Seanan McGuire: A little bit of both. But mostly it’s that anything that is 100 percent straight, white, and able-bodied is unrealistic unless you want to set up a bunch of oppressive structures I have no interest in writing.

The world is not a monoculture. Humanity has never been a monoculture. [A lot of stories] treat humanity like a monoculture where any setting you want to use is just pretty stage-dressing and any character you want to design needs a reason to be something other than what we jokingly refer to as the “Six-fecta”: straight, white, vaguely Christian (but not too Christian; you can’t be too religious) able-bodied, cisgender and male. So many books in our genre still hit all six of those attributes with every main character. The only exceptions are some secondary characters who are women because, otherwise, how do we reward the men for being awesome?

But that’s not the world I live in. I have been a queer, disabled, half-Roma woman for my entire life. I knew I liked girls from the time I was eight. Not in a sexual way but in a “If I’m gonna hold hands with somebody and kiss them” way, I would prefer it be a girl. So I can absolutely say that I was queer when I was eight. I’ve been half Roma since my daddy knocked up my mom in the back of a van, and I’ve been female since I popped out. I’ve done the gender interrogation you’re supposed to do as a cis ally and determined that “girl” is pretty much the label that works for me.

I never had a shot at that Six-fecta if I wanted it. Why would I, as someone who deviates from that “norm” on multiple levels, want to write that norm? I know people who fit it, I love people who fit it. I am not saying there’s anything wrong with them wanting to see characters who look like them. But sometimes I want to see a character who looks like me, and that means a character with multiple overlapping identities all of which inform her daily life.

Sometimes, people I know will tell me they want to see a character that looks like them, and they don’t get to do that very often. Then I will make a genuine effort to include a character that looks like them, because I want them to have that experience. We learn how to human from stories. Like I said before, humans are not built for constant original thought. We learn what a person looks like from the stories people tell us. Sometimes that is learning: “Wait, that’s me. I’m a person.” And sometimes it’s learning: “Wait, that’s Jean Marie. Maybe she’s a person too.”

Culturally, we have done ourselves a huge disservice by telling so many stories for such a long time where the only people who got to be at the center of the story were the ones who fit those six attributes, because only those people get fully acknowledged as people by the monomyth we’re living in. That’s not fair and not okay. The only time I tend to manipulate the diversity in a story is if I realize I need to kill somebody. If a group has little representation, you can kill a much larger percentage of that group by killing one character. If I kill a straight white man in science fiction, I have killed one of ninety million straight white men. If I kill a trans woman in science fiction, I’ve killed one of maybe twelve. That’s a very different statement, whether or not I intend to be making it.

So, if someone is in the line of fire and I cannot move them, I will stop, look at what I’m doing, and ask myself: How big a deal is this character to the group they represent? How big a deal would it be if I were reading this book and that character looked like me? Would I have seen me before? That’s not tokenism. I don’t give plot armor to these characters. They can still die. It’s a matter of am I taking away someone’s emotional support character?

Galaxy’s Edge: You have explored just about every subgenre in speculative fiction. Is there any particular kind of story or genre that you would really like to write but haven’t had the chance?

Seanan McGuire: I have an intense, bordering on the ridiculous, fondness for mid-Nineties chick lit, the sub-genre where The Princess Diaries, The Boy Next Door, and Bridget Jones’s Diary live. I’m waiting for the nostalgia wave to whip those back around. I’ve written several. I’m pretty good at it, but there’s no market for them right now. So they sit and occasionally get revised, when I have time, to make sure that they stay up to my current standards. And they go nowhere.

I would also very much like to write a series of cozy mysteries—The Dog Barks at Midnight sort of thing. I have a concept for a fun series of cozy mysteries. But unfortunately, I am told by both my agent and several authors I know who write cozy mysteries, there is no money there. There’s just none.

It’s not that I only write to chase the money, because no one becomes a writer to chase the money. That is the worst decision you could possibly make. Don’t do that, children. Or adults. Or unspeakable cosmic entities. Don’t become a writer because you want to get paid. You will not get paid. But there is a difference between writing something I am truly passionate about, cannot stop myself from writing, that I already know I’m good at, and not getting paid; and writing books in a genre I find charming but not completely compelling, kind-of-wanna-try-my-hand-at but will not get paid. One is a reasonable self-limiting decision. The other is just not bright.

I’d also like to write a truly horrific horror novel that has no science fiction elements. Just horror. I wanna do horror for the sake of horror. I wanna get my Clive Barker on. I wanna get my Kathe Koja on. I can’t. Every time I try, I get distracted by the possibility of science.

Galaxy’s Edge: That’s tragic. Science is death to horror.

Seanan McGuire: Yeah, I love horror so much, and I’m so bad at it.

Galaxy’s Edge: Any closing thoughts?

Seanan McGuire: We are recording this on April 29, 2021. I have a book coming out on May 4 called Angel of the Overpass. It’s the third book in my Ghost Roads series, which is InCryptid-adjacent, published by DAW Books. I won’t say it’s the last, but it is likely to be the final entry in Rose Marshall’s story for a while. So I’m very excited about that.

Over on my Twitter, I just finished a complete review of the October Daye books, because they are nominated for a Best Series Hugo this year. Having grown up in fandom, I tend to be very careful and a little aloof when talking about the Hugos. I remember being told by my foster mother when I was a teenager that it’s gauche to say you want to win. But I really want to win this year.

I feel that the Best Series category was created for urban fantasy. I know it wasn’t created just for urban fantasy, but urban fantasy plays best at series length. It is a story that needs that room to grow and breathe and really be considered as a whole, not just as the sum of its parts. I would desperately like for the first true urban fantasy—just urban fantasy, not urban science fiction, not urban horror, but urban fantasy—Hugo to go to a female or female-identifying author. It’s the only science fiction subgenre that is female-dominated and doesn’t have the word “romance” somewhere in the description. Romance is great. I love romance. I write romance. But female authors get shoved into romance so quickly, whether or not that’s what we want to be doing. Having a subgenre we currently control has always been very very important to me. It feels like a thing we have accomplished as ladies.

So, I would like the first Hugo Award given to a work of pure urban fantasy to be given to a female-identifying author. It doesn’t have to be me. You have many other choices. We are a big and diverse field. But if you’re looking at this year’s ballot, it does have to be me.

Galaxy’s Edge: We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope the best.

Seanan McGuire: Thank you.

Like our interviews? Read our conversation with qntm, author of There Is No Antimemetics Division!

INTERVIEW With qntm, Author of There Is No Antimemetics Division

I recently had the pleasure of reading There Is No Antimemetics Division, a paranormal sci-fi novel. I stumbled across it while browsing the Kindle store and I was immediately hooked from the premise.

The story focuses on the members of the Foundation as they fight to save Earth from the titular antimemes, which are elusive, memory-altering entities intent on destroying humanity.

When I finished reading the book, I did a bit of digging online and learned about the wide genre of SCP fiction (Special Containment Procedures), of which There Is No Antimemetics Division is a part of. After my sleuthing, I found qntm’s website and reached out for a chat.

So, I’m excited to share with you all the conversation I had with qntm!

Author Bio:

The author known as qntm was born in the UK and still lives there. He is educated in mathematics and now develops software for a living. He’s been writing science fiction in his spare time since he was in secondary school. For an incredible amount of time, it was just a hobby, but he’s now at the point where it’s a full-on side gig. He is the author of Ra, Fine Structure, Ed, and most recently, There Is No Antimemetics Division.

So, qntm, you have a few books in the broader sci-fi genre, how did you get into writing, and who the biggest influences to your writing?

“I have been writing science fiction for a long time, mostly putting that writing out online for free, on my own website and as part of various online writing communities. I spent a massive chunk of my life contributing both fiction and factual work to Everything2, which is where I found my earliest real audience, and where my first few books originally appeared (serially, over the course of years). E2’s popularity waned in the early 2010s, but around that time my own website was beginning to gain traction/readers. More recently, I spent several years contributing to the SCP wiki. That’s where There Is No Antimemetics Division originates. It’s only relatively recently that I’ve actually started publishing my serials in ebook and paper formats.

My earliest influences were Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. For a long time I wrote in an Asimovian style where essentially I would have largely personality-free talking heads produce a new science fiction concept, and then do something clever with it, and then end the story immediately. It was David X. Cohen and Matt Groening’s Futurama that taught me that science fiction could, and should, be much more than that: smart, colourful, funny, relevant, opinionated, story-driven, character-driven. Like a lot of people of my generation, I was also massively influenced by The Matrix. And I’ve drawn massive stylistic inspiration from Grant Morrison’s late 1990s run on JLA — those comic books are the main reason why I write in the present tense, just to begin with. More recently, I’ve loved the Culture novels of the late, great Iain M. Banks.

But most recently of all, a lot of my inspiration is simply modern technology news. The world is moving unbelievably fast right now, and the gap between what a science fiction writer can imagine and what a real human can just do in reality has never been narrower. It’s difficult to stay out in front of that.”

One of the most interesting things about There Is No Antimemetics Division is of course antimemes; can you explain what an antimeme is for our readers, and can you talk a bit about your inspiration for such a concept?

“So, “meme” has multiple conflicting definitions, but for our purposes I define a meme to be a contagious idea. It’s an idea with some kind of intrinsic property which causes people to spread it to other people. The mechanism for that spreading can take a lot of different forms. An idea can spread because it’s useful, but it can also spread because it’s just catchy, or it rhymes, or because someone’s paying people to spread it, or because it’s forbidden to spread it (reverse psychology)… A meme can be a catchphrase, or a scientific theory, or a design for a tool, or a memorable tune which is easy to chant, or a symbol which is easy to scribble, or an urban legend, or a massive, complicated economic philosophy, or a whole religion. A meme doesn’t have to be the truth. A meme can be a lie.

My observation was that the contagiousness of an idea varies greatly. Some ideas are clearly less contagious than others. So, what’s at the bottom end of that scale? What ideas, truths or lies, are the most difficult to share? What ideas intrinsically resist being shared? There are plenty of examples. Things like dirty secrets, taboos, passwords, dreams, politically inconvenient historical facts, complex equations, boring tax code, injunctions and super-injunctions. I call these difficult-to-share ideas “antimemes”. Both memes and antimemes are real, by the way.

The study of memes is memetics. Exactly whether memetics is a real scientific field is, I believe, disputed and questionable. Personally, I think it seems rather elusive and pseudoscientific. Luckily, I’m not a scientist, I’m a science fiction writer, and exactly what memetics can be in fiction is something we are free to play around with, and redefine. I called the study of antimemes “antimemetics”, obviously. Antimemetics is just as questionable as memetics, as a field of study, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep going.

Now, what happens if you take a step from there into fiction? A fictional, “supernatural” meme might be an idea which spreads faster than should be physically possible – it spreads from person to person seemingly telepathically, maybe across great distances, and maybe has some physical power to it. Meanwhile, a supernatural antimeme might be an idea which should be memorable but somehow isn’t. An item locked in a vault which anybody can go in and look at… but nobody who leaves the vault can remember what they saw, or what happened to them. Photos come out blurry. An antimemetic entity trips you up — you don’t remember why you fell, and after getting up, you may not even remember falling.

I wrote SCP-055, which is the first chapter of what came to be There Is No Antimemetics Division, in 2008. SCP-055 is little more than an antimemetic entity in a box — there’s not a lot to it other than this thought-provoking premise, in the Asimovian sense I mentioned above. But years later I decided that there was a lot more unexplored narrative potential here.

Antimemes make for a really interesting science fiction adversary — how do you fight something you can’t remember? What else is there in this ecosystem of competing ideas? What kind of organisation can deal with that kind of problem, and what kind of person works there? These questions turned out to have really interesting answers. That’s how the book starts.”

One of the things that struck me about There Is No Antimemetics Division is the structure. It jumps back and forth between characters at different parts in the timeline, and in the beginning, it incorporates case files for SCPs as part of the narrative. How did you land on that structure, and is there something about it you feel lends itself to the story?

There Is No Antimemetics Division was originally written in serial form on the SCP Foundation wiki, as a series of SCPs and Tales, over the course of years. All of my SCPs are intended to be comprehensible if read standalone by an idly browsing reader. About half of my individual Tales are too, especially the earlier ones.

So, the structure of Antimemetics is less of a continuous narrative than it is a series of discrete events.  Think like a series of movies, rather than a television show.  Chapters appeared individually, with months separating them. With this in mind, I was trying to make it so that each chapter was, to a certain extent, a complete short story, providing value to a reader, providing progress and narrative satisfaction in itself.

And I really like the effect this had. First of all, I think it just keeps things interesting. It keeps the reader guessing, keeps them on their toes, changes the scenery, changes the pace. A strictly linear story would have been much less interesting, and, in this case, it would have given away quite a lot of crucial information far too early.

 Secondly, a major theme of this specific story is that the characters themselves are kind of acting without context. They are arriving at confusing and frightening situations, with no memory of the years of prior events which led up to those situations, and then they are making the best decisions they can based on limited information.

When I withhold that backstory from the reader, the reader has to deal with the same situation, and decide for themselves whether the characters made good decisions. The flashbacks make it a complete story in retrospect, but they mean you aren’t second-guessing the characters. It’s the best alternative I have to actually erasing the readers’ memories.”

You’ve mentioned the SCP Foundation Wiki, can you explain a bit more about that?

“At its heart, it’s a collaborative work of science fiction/fantasy/horror, using the format of a database of “Special Containment Procedures” (SCPs) for thousands of diverse “anomalies”. The anomalies are all contained by the same ambiguously moral organisation, the Foundation.

The Foundation is a huge, nebulous, bureaucratic secret agency, the kind you’ve seen in many other places in fiction. It has a lot in common with The X-Files, Hellboy’s Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, Warehouse 13, Men In Black… the key differentiator here is the collaborative wiki aspect.

Anybody can sign up, invent a new SCP, and contribute it to the wiki. When you do, other people will vote your contribution up or down. If people like what you wrote, they might even build on it. As a result, a sort of consensus lore gradually emerges, a background for other people to build on…. The wiki isn’t something I invented, by the way. I’m just one of thousands of contributors to this show.

A Special Containment Procedures database entry (“SCP”) has to use a specific, fairly rigid structure, and a clinical tone. And normally it should stand completely alone, being comprehensible if read in isolation. It can be really challenging to tell a compelling story in this format — that’s part of the fun. I actually consider it a form of constrained writing, like a sonnet or a palindrome. But the wiki also allows for “Tales”, where contributors can break from that format and present a conventional narrative.”

I know a lot of the literature in the same universe as There Is No Antimemetics Division consists of different short fiction pieces, how did you decide it had to be a novel?

“It was a coin toss whether it would even turn out to be a novel. There Is No Antimemetics Division was written primarily as a web serial, to entertain the readers of the SCP wiki. That was the top priority for me. In fact, some aspects of the original web content had to be sacrificed in order to assemble the ebook, and then more still to turn it into a printable format for the paperback and hardcover editions.

For example, the original web version of “SCP-3125” shows only the first half of the database entry, and an interactive keypad. The reader has to figure out the right code to enter before they’re even allowed to read the rest. In the book, naturally, there’s no keypad, you just turn the page and there’s the rest.

Of course, the adaptation could have been a lot harder. Some SCP wiki content uses moving images, complex full colour text and backgrounds, advanced interactive controls… all very difficult things to adapt to a non-web format.

Some SCP wiki content is hyperfiction with no single intended linear reading order. Some of it is highly collaborative, with multiple contributors. And some of it relies heavily on contextual knowledge from other SCPs.

As for me, I wrote a relatively linear, self-contained, closed, plain text story. There’s some screwy text formatting, but relative to a lot of wiki content, There Is No Antimemetics Division is positively pedestrian. I guess that makes me old-fashioned. But it meant the end result was fairly novel-like.

If you’re asking how I decided that the serial should be adapted as an ebook, and then a paperback, and then a hardcover? People asked for it!”

Along the same vein as the last question, I realized there are a lot of things in the novel that aren’t really explained, the man who confronts Adam Wheeler outside of Site 41 near the end of the novel, for instance. I haven’t read all the short fiction in the same universe, but are many of these things explained there? Or is the lack of explanation a part of the paranormal horror?

“I consider this to be a very self-contained story. There are some mysteries which I left open because I wanted the reader not to know the answer. You won’t find the answers to those elsewhere in the wiki. In particular, you know everything about that man, Red, that I want you to know.

Having said that, if you don’t get cracking into the rest of the wiki, you are missing the heck out. The main thing to check out is What the Dead Know, a side story by sirpudding set in the Antimemetics continuity and written around the same time. This side story introduces Mobile Task Force ω-0, and eventually crosses over into Antimemetics. It’s not necessary for understanding Antimemetics — if it were, I would have found a way to incorporate it into the published novel — but it provides valuable background detail and is well worth a read in its own right. I also highly recommend SCP-1425, an early SCP by Silberescher which was massively influential on Antimemetics and is obliquely referenced in the story.”

From what I understand, there’s no official canon in the SCP universe. A lot of other authors might shy away from letting readers actively participate in the ‘canon’ (I’m using the term loosely here), how do you balance your own writing versus reading what other people have written in the world you’ve created? I personally really love the idea that the SCP universe is a collaborative effort, and I think more authors should start opening up their worlds to readers like you have. There is of course, fanfiction, but to actually be considered part of the universe’s ‘canon’, must be very exciting as a reader.

“Contributions to the Antimemetics Division corner of the SCP wiki have been relatively limited since I wrapped the story up in 2020. I think that’s because the story is fairly complete and self-contained — it was kind of designed to be that way, after all. I suspect a lot of potential contributors get to the end and think, “How do I follow THAT?” and instead head over to another corner of the wiki and develop something without those creative constraints!

As for the fiction content of the greater wiki… like I say, it’s not something I have control over, or would even want to control. I wish I could read more than a fraction of it. But I think contributing to a huge shared universe, even one with “no canon”, is one of the great attractions of the SCP wiki. There being “no canon” is another way of saying that when you write your contribution, you have great creative freedom in which facts you take to be canonical or not — and others have the same choice when it comes to your work. There’s a chance to contribute something which really resonates with a lot of people.”

There Is No Antimemetics Division was your latest book; what projects are you working on next?

“Next up is a book of short stories. This will include my short stories “Lena”, “The Difference” and “I Don’t Know, Timmy, Being God Is A Big Responsibility”, at minimum… and a fistful of others, some old, maybe some new, I haven’t decided yet. No working title, no planned date.

After that, there’s an outside chance that I might do something I’ve never done before, and write a book and self-publish it, without first releasing it for free on the web. It’ll take a lot of willpower, because I love that immediate feedback.”

Can you describe what your writing process looks like?

“I’d love to have a reliable, consistent process. That sounds great.

When developing a story, my general approach is to start from some kind of compelling science fiction “What if?” and then run with it. What if information was a substance you could almost shovel around like snow? What if magic was, starting from the 1970s, just another field of engineering? What if you were at war with your own failing memory? Then I explore the logical consequences as far as I can, finding out how the universe changes if this concept is introduced, and how the universe has to change retroactively in order for this to become possible in the first place. Usually, once I get far enough, some kind of story emerges — if it doesn’t, it’s time to start over from some other premise.

Ideas, however, are cheap. Execution is expensive. I write pretty slowly by most people’s standards, and that’s when I can muster the time to write at all. Maybe a hundred words a day. It’s hard going.

If I’m writing a serial, it then becomes about planning ahead as far as humanly possible, while also understanding that the plan can’t be perfect in every detail, because a plan perfect in every detail would just be the completed serial. I usually have a basic end goal in mind and some cool set pieces or lines of dialogue which I want to engineer somewhere along the line — and commonly half of them turn out to be mutually exclusive with the others, so they have to be ditched.

The rest is just time. And experience.”

You can find qntm’s novels for sale on Amazon or Google Play!

And if you liked this interview, let us know! Is there another author you’d like us to interview?

Read an insightful GALAXY’S EDGE interview with Nancy Kress!

Tomorrows-KinNancy Kress is one of science fiction’s crown jewels. She is a writer of powerful science fiction, having won Hugos and Nebulas. She also is known as a talented writing teacher.

September’s issue of sf and fantasy magazine Galaxy’s Edge has an insightful interview by the wildly talented author. To read her own personal thoughts on her career (and to access the full interview) you can click the magazine link to see the many options available for buying this wonderful 28th issue.

To whet your appetite here is an exclusive excerpt:

Joy Ward: How did you get started writing?

Nancy Kress: By accident. I had never planned on being a writer. When I was a child, I thought all writers were dead because the writers I was reading were Louisa May Alcott. I really did not realize that writing was a commodity that was still being produced. I thought it was like oil, there was a finite amount of it.

Then I discovered that there were actual writers living and this completely shocked me, but I come from a very conservative Italian-American family, and I grew up in the 1950s. So my mother sat me down when I was 12 and said, “Do you want to be a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary?” Because those were the only possible things she could think of, and I thought it over and I said, “Okay, I’ll be a teacher.” So I became a fourth grade teacher, and I was for four years. I enjoyed it. Then I got married and had my children. I was pregnant with my second child. We lived way out in the country. There were no other women at home. They were all older and had gone back to work. My then husband took our only car to work, and he was taking an MBA, so he often didn’t come home for dinner; he stayed for classes. I was there with my one-year-old- 18-month-year-old, very difficult pregnancy, and I was going nuts.

I started writing to have something to do that didn’t involve Sesame Street, and I didn’t take it seriously. It was a thing I was doing while the baby was napping, to try to have something of my own. I would send them out. They’d come back. I’d send them out they’d come back. After a year, one sold. After another year, a second one. After another year a third one sold, then it started to pick up and I began to take it more seriously, but I didn’t plan on doing this.

I remember (selling the first story) very well. It was to Galaxy, which is a magazine long-defunct. What I didn’t know is that everybody else had stopped submitting to Galaxy because it was trembling on the verge of bankruptcy. I had no connection with fandom. I didn’t know it existed, I didn’t know SFWA existed. I didn’t know conventions existed. When I first sold it, it turned out that nobody else was submitting anything, and they were desperate. So they published my story immediately then it  went bankrupt. It took me three years to get my $105. I wanted it, and I kept writing and I’d say, “This is my first sale. I want my $105.” And for that eventually I think he had pity and he sent me the check.

I did it. I did that was what goes through my mind. Three words, “I did it.” I didn’t think I could, but I did it.

To read more go to Galaxy’s Edge for options on purchasing issue 28!

 

Galaxy’s Edge’s Interview With Author Kij Johnson

Kij Johnson is a Hugo winner, and a three-time Nebula winner (in consecutive years, yet!) and is acknowledged as one of the field’s leading short fiction writers. And this week, over at Galaxy’s Edge, Joy Ward interviews her about what it takes to be true to yourself as a writer:

interview with author kij johnson
Kij Johnson in 2018,
Photo from Wikipedia

“One of the most important things I ever say to my students is, everything else I teach them is just tactics, but the thing that I am always proudest of bringing up is: figure out why you’re writing. Really why you’re writing. Not, oh I have things worth saying or oh, I want to make a living or whatever it is.

But really if you go all the way down deeper and deeper and deeper, like spend two years in therapy with a therapist every single Tuesday. So why do you write? Usually the answer is somewhere in early childhood. So it’s a little kid response. I’m not ascribing any value judgment to that. Because mine, when you get right down to it, is parents were sort of emotionally absent and when I wrote I didn’t get praised for my writing very much but I didn’t get praised for anything else.

So my writing ultimately was a way of saying I’m not my mother and look at me to my parents. I also did a lot of art for the same reasons. That’s mine. We all have one, ultimately, underneath it all.

Whatever we say in interviews usually is the cover up. It’s the pat response we use to cover up the sincere response. I do it because the only time anybody took me seriously as a 5’10” Amazon blonde was when I wrote and they didn’t know what I looked like. Because they stopped staring at my chest long enough it took to read my story. So there are so many responses and so many of them sound venal or petty or small or something like that.

Those responses are not any of those things. Those responses are the heart that when we understand it gives us the spines that we build adulthood on. That’s what I always think of, so to me knowing that is the most important part of your writing cause if you know your reason for writing is because you’re competing with your dad and you didn’t know it. It’s like, as soon as you know that, now you can get away from writing your dad’s story or the stories that are going to school your dad about you and now you’re going to be able to tell the stories you want to tell. If you are doing it because you are insecure and you want people to look at you, that you’re smart or clever or cute or whatever it is, as soon as you know that, you are in control. Until you know it you don’t.

So I’m always telling undergrads but especially adults because we get those super complicated defense mechanisms that allow us to never, ever look at ourselves. That’s fundamental. That’s my answer really. It’s fundamental that we understand who we are and our smallest, pettiest, most selfish or narcissistic or greedy, envious little pieces. We can either counter or use to our advantage and make them work.”

Go to the interview page of Galaxy’s Edge Magazine to read the rest of this wonderful interview!

And if you liked this interview, check out our interview with author qntm!

Copyright © 2017 by Joy Ward.

Joy Ward Interviews Robert Silverberg

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Remember I am a science fiction writer. I spent my life writing about people who traveled in time and found themselves embedded in some strange era that they could barely comprehend and learning the ropes as they were dumped down in the far future of, say, 1979 back in a story written in 1955. So I expect change. I’m not astounded that the world has changed out of recognition all around me. I’d be pretty upset if it hadn’t.”Robert Silverberg

The 24th Issue of Galaxy’s Edge went live at the start of the year, with stories from the likes of Mercedes Lackey, Kevin J. Anderson, and Michael Swanwick! One of our biggest joys working on Galaxy’s Edge (pun definitely intended!) is reading the ever fascinating interviews Joy Ward conducts with the luminaries of our field. Here is the latest:

Joy Ward is the author of one novel. She has several stories in print, in magazines and in anthologies, and has also done interviews, both written and video, for other publications.

 THE GALAXY’S EDGE INTERVIEW by Joy Ward

Robert Silverberg is one of the living giants of science fiction. His writing has been in constant print for well over fifty years and has been a defining influence on more writers than we will ever know. No science fiction reader can ever consider him or herself to be well read without at least one of Silverberg’s masterpieces under the belt. We were lucky enough to catch up with him at his lovely home in the San Francisco Bay area.

Joy Ward: How did you get started writing?

Robert Silverberg: I started reading science fiction when I was ten or eleven and by the time I was thirteen I decided I could do this too. This was not actually correct at that point. I did send some stories to magazines and, when they figured out it was a boy sending them and not a demented adult, they sent me very gentle rejection letters. But I continued writing. By the time I was sixteen, seventeen I was getting published. That’s how I began writing.

JW: Tell me about the early days of writing. What kind of stories were you writing?

RS: Probably not very good ones.

I lived in New York then and I sent the stories, nearly all of which were edited, in New York, and they sent them back with encouraging letters. Then they started sending checks. The editors invited me to come down and meet them. I hastened to do that. I think they were surprised to discover I was eighteen or whatever but I got to know them, became part of the New York science fiction writers group as a kind of mascot, really, and as the editors discovered that I was a very dependable craftsman they began calling me and saying “Bob, we need a story of five thousand, five hundred words by Friday to fill a hole in an issue. Can you do it?” I would say yes and I did do it.

JW: How did that feel to be with all these literati?

RS: Well, I was accustomed to that because, more or less against my knowledge or will, I got skipped through the early grades very quickly. I could read when I was about four. I didn’t spend much time in kindergarten. I zoomed through. Suddenly I was in the fourth grade and I was a year and a half younger than everybody else; and when you’re seven and a half and they are nine that’s a big difference. So all through my childhood and adolescence I was younger than everyone else. Then I started my career and the same thing was happening so I assumed this is what life is like.

What is really strange is now I’m practically eighty and I’m older than just about any functioning science fiction writer. Not that I’m functioning much anymore but I’m still up and moving around and it’s a very odd experience for me after having been so precocious, to be older than everybody that I know.

It’s kind of lonely. I’ve always gone to the science fiction convention every year, Worldcon, and I formed friendships with writers who were fifteen or twenty years older than I was. People like Frederik Pohl and Lester Del Rey and L. Sprague De Camp and Gordon Dickson and on an on and on. Because they were fifteen or twenty years older and I am now eighty they are all dead. There’s one writer left, James Gunn who is 91, of all the writers that I knew from those early conventions. So I’ve had to form a new set of friends among young people like George Martin and Connie Willis and Joe Haldeman who are only sixty-five or seventy or so.

It’s been a conscious act on my part to form new friendships because otherwise I would be all alone. (I would be) that guy with the white beard standing in the middle of the convention hall saying, “Where did everybody go?”

Science fiction writers are a very collegial group.  Before science fiction was big business it was a downtrodden minority. It was a funny little pulp fiction field. Gaudy looking magazines with names like Amazing Stories, Astounding Science Fiction and we were considered pretty weird. So we banded together, a league against the world. Of course that all changed, changed almost frightingly, and science fiction became such big business that it’s impossible now to keep up with the whole field, to understand what’s going on. When I go out into what I laughingly call the “real world” I hear people talk about aliens and alternative universes. All of those esoteric things that were our private property are now in everybody’s vocabulary because you can’t go to the movies without seeing five trailers for what they call the new sci-fi movies. I hate that sci-fi word.

So science fiction writers tend to choose other science fiction writers as their friends. Not exclusively. Also, I have no family to speak of. I have a wife and a brother-in-law and sister-in-law. That’s about it. I have no ancestors left. I have outlived them all and I never had children. So the science fiction writers are sort of surrogate family for me. That’s why when I go to the convention I don’t want to stand there and say, “Where did everybody go?” It’s an unpleasant feeling. But I don’t. I’ve known a young whipper snapper like George Martin, I’ve known him for thirty-five years or so. This is not a recent friendship.

The big high point of my career, not a very difficult one to understand, was 2004 when the science fiction writers gave me the Grand Master trophy. What was special for me about that, I had been a member of SFWA since it was founded. I was there when the Grand Master award was invented and given to Heinlein and to Jack Williamson and to Clifford Simak and to Sprague De Camp— and these people I’m naming are all writers I read and admired and idolized when I was twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old. Suddenly in 2004 I’m getting the same award they got, which told me that you have achieved something in your career. You have found a place for yourself among them. I never really, I don’t see myself as being among them. I’m just that kid that managed to get a lot of stories published back there in 1956. But from the outside I know it looks different.

It feels wonderful because I was a reader, a fan, and came to conventions when I was fifteen, sixteen and looked at these demigods and grew up to be a demigod myself. I can only feel that I did it the right way. That’s a good feeling. You don’t want to know that you have wasted your life or you bungled your ambition. I haven’t. I remember at a convention about twenty-five years ago I was standing in the lobby of the hotel talking to Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke, both of whom I had known for many years and I regard as friends. But the teenage boy within me could not help thinking, “You’re talking to Asimov and Clarke.” Then I heard somebody about twenty feet away say, “Look. There’s Asimov, Clarke and Silverberg.” It put everything in perspective when you see it from the outside like that.

To them, standing over there, that was a group of big-name writers. To me, time traveled back to 1953. I’m a kid who mysteriously finds himself talking to these titans of the field. A lot of double vision involved.

I’ve done a lot of writing that isn’t science fiction. I wrote a number of books about geography and geology and scientific subjects. I wrote a few western stories. I wrote some detective stories, even though I wasn’t very good at that. Mostly what I thought when I did this is this is what I do when I’m not writing science fiction. A lot of hardened science fiction writers have felt that way that it’s not really sensible or justifiable but I remember James Blish, a writer who I revered who has been dead a long time now, Jim was a great science fiction writer but to pay the rent he wrote for sports pubs and westerns, which was funny because I don’t know Jim knew which end of the baseball bat to swing and as for westerns, he was a New Yorker through and through. But still that’s what he did and he always regarded the other stuff as something you did when you didn’t have a science fiction idea but your main business was writing science fiction. On some level, I think that too.

To continue reading, check out the full interview here, at the Galaxy’s Edge website!