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Thirteen Questions with Seanan McGuire

by on June 13, 2013

Seanan McGuire, bestselling author of the Newsflesh Trilogy (as Mira Grant) and the October Daye series as well as the first person to be nominated five times for a Hugo award in a single year, recently discussed with me some of her views on public libraries, electronic books and writing. I had the privilege of briefly meeting McGuire at this year’s JordanCon events where she was the Guest of Honor, and where I became familiar with some of her works which, in turn, prompted me to want to share her with you: my readers.  She is a buoyant, fascinating personality in public, and having read previous interviews with her, I wanted to share her here in hopes of capturing some of that personality on paper. In addition to her Hugo Nominations this year and her bestselling novels, McGuire is also an accomplished performer of Filk music (a genre that is similar to folk but differs on content. In this case, Filk deals with science fiction and fantasy themes). Enjoy!

PL Online: From an author’s perspective, how do you feel about public libraries?

SM: I love libraries.  I grew up miles below the poverty line, and one of my biggest concerns as we move into this brave new world of e-publishing and dwindling print runs is getting people across the digital divide.  I could not exist as the person I am today if I had not had cheap and easy access to books, despite my economic disadvantages in childhood.  Libraries are one of the great equalizers of our society, and we need them desperately.

PL Online: Do you have any stories from or special memories about a public library from your past?

SM: My local public library was two stories high, with very little in-library supervision for well behaved young girls who didn’t shout or damage the books.  I used to spend entire days there, reading the books I wasn’t allowed to check out yet, hiding away in the stacks where no one could find me.  This resulted in my reading a lot of early British horror, and then remembering them as “that book with the killer mushrooms” or “the one about the spiders.”  Even now, I sometimes find those books, put a title and author to the story, and rejoice.

PL Online: How do you feel about the rise of electronic books? Do you prefer e-books over print books?

SM: Absolutely not.  I do not read e-books.  If I’m looking at a computer screen, I’m either writing, or reading something by one of my friends with the express intent of offering edits and critique.  I love my physical books.  More, I love the fact that if I don’t like a book, I can give it away.  I have become a source of used books for several financially disadvantaged teenagers, and that is a wonderful thing.  I love that we keep coming up with new ways to get stories out into the world, but I am a print girl all the way, and I will be right up until the point where I’m in my nineties and need to be able to increase the font size with the click of an e-reader button.

PL Online: There is something that I must ask, just because I thought it was hilarious, about something you discussed at JordanCon 2013: that you have been bitten by “unusual” animals. In fact, I think you said, “I’m willing to bet that, in this entire room, I’ve been bitten by the strangest animal.” So, for everyone who wasn’t at JordanCon, could you tell my readers a story about the Komodo dragon, the King Cobra, or both?

SM: Nope.  Can’t tell either.  These are convention stories, and if you want to hear them, you’ll need to catch me at a convention!

PL Online: You mentioned your background in Herpetology at JordanCon 2013.  How has your work in Herpetology informed your writing? What did you learn from Herpetology that you use in your writing?

SM: How to do research.  I don’t really write about snakes as much as I might like to, but being in the sciences, even for a while, really taught me how to do research and follow my concepts through to their logical conclusions.

PL Online: You’ve discussed in the past that you have done extensive research for your novels, like your time working with the CDC for example. Do you think that research is an important factor in writing fantasy and science fiction, or do you think it only matters in specific instances, like discussing the realities of virology and pathogens, or should it be a starting point for all authors?

SM: A certain amount of research, or at least consideration, is vital for anything longer than about 5,000 words, because you’re going to start needing to answer the all-mighty “Why?”  I think a lot of second books demonstrate a lack of pre-composition research and world-building.  Things fall apart because deep down, very few of us believe we’ll actually get to write that second book.  You need to know what you’re doing, and have a solid foundation, even if your readers will never see anything but the barest edges of your hard work.

PL Online: In your novel Feed you focused the story on the political intrigues of Senator Ryman’s Presidential Campaign and made the zombies more of a background feature.  What led you to this particular approach?

SM: I love zombies, but zombie stories are essentially human stories, and I wanted to write about the humans for a change.  I can go anywhere for carnage.  I figured it was time to look at the other aspects of the zombie apocalypse.

PL Online: Georgia Mason is a fantastic character, definitely one of the best strong women characters in recent times that I can recall. Do you see any of yourself in Georgia, or, if not yourself, any real world inspirations for the character, or is she completely a fictional construction?

SM: I never put myself in any of my protagonists, or anyone else, for that matter.  I sometimes base side characters off of real people–there’s a practice called “Tuckerization” that allows an author to put someone real into their fiction, and I periodically donate these cameo roles to charity auctions–but my protagonists are always entirely themselves.  It’s the only way to make them work for me.  And I have never based a character off of myself.  I spend enough time with me as it is.

PL Online: You are also the author of the six books in the October Daye series, with a seventh book called Chimes at Midnight releasing in September. For people who may not be familiar with these works, could you explain the premise behind the series?

SM: Faerie is real.  All the fairy tales, all the legends, they’re all based on grains of truth.  It’s just that we got a lot of the details wrong.  October “Toby” Daye is a changeling, a fae/human hybrid, serving as a knight errant in one of the secret fae kingdoms hidden alongside the mortal world, and she’s trying not to die.  She’s trying very, very hard.  The Toby Daye books are dark urban fantasy, very much in the vein of Jim Butcher or Carrie Vaughn.

PL Online: Your new book under your pen name Mira Grant, Parasite, is being released in October. Would you explain to my readers what the concept is for the story and where you got the idea?

SM: I think in this case that the concept is pretty self-explanatory: it’s about parasites, and how they interact with us, and how we interact with them.  It’s also about body horror and the hygiene hypothesis.  You know, fun times.

PL Online: What is currently holding your interest in the fiction world? Are there any new books or authors that you are excited over that you think people should be reading?

SM: I love, love, love Peter Clines, whose first book, Ex-Heroes, was recently reprinted in a lovely trade paperback edition, and whose novel 14 was one of the most beautifully upsetting things I read last year.  I’m also really excited about Alex Bledsoe’s Tufa books, the second of which, Wisp of a Thing, comes out later this year.

(Interviewer note: Alex Bledsoe was also an attendee at JordanCon 2013)

PL Online: How does it feel to be the first person, and the first woman, nominated five times in a single year for a Hugo award?

SM: Petrifying.  I’m proud of myself, and thrilled to be the first woman to set a “number of…” record in the Hugos, but it’s also terrifying.  I get test anxiety from awards.

PL Online: Finally, what advice would you give to an aspiring writer who is considering self-publishing as opposed to the more traditional methods of publication?

SM: Be sure you’re ready.  Look, whatever you just wrote, whatever you’re looking at and thinking “this is the best thing I have ever done,” that thing is not the best thing you will ever do.  If self-publishing had been an option when I was getting my first agency rejections, I would have jumped on it, and my career would be over by now, because I was not ready.  Solicit opinions that aren’t from family or close friends.  Try to get an agent, try for traditional publishing, if only to mark the point where the rejections turn personal, or even into acceptances.  There’s this huge temptation to get your work out into the world NOW NOW NOW, and that can hurt you if your work is not as solid as it could be without more time and effort.  I am genuinely glad I didn’t have the self-pub option.  It forced me to improve before throwing my babies to the wolves.


It’s really a shame she didn’t tell the Komodo dragon or cobra story. I had hopes that she would, but you can’t win them all. If you do get the chance to see her at a convention, make sure you ask about the stories I mentioned: it’s totally worth it to hear them from her own mouth.  You can follow McGuire on twitter @seananmcguire and you can check out the authors she mentioned (Peter Clines and Alex Bledsoe) in bookstores now. Her book Parasite (as Mira Grant) will be available in October 2013, and book 7 of the October Daye series arrives in September. Best of luck to you, Seanan, on your Hugo Awards in September, your fans are rooting for you (and secretly hoping you will dress as a Disney Princess for the awards show.)