Seanan McGuire: The Terribleminds Interview

Seanan McGuire is Mira Grant. Mira Grant is Seanan McGuire. Both write kick-ass novels like FEED, or the INCRYPTID series. I can only assure you that you want to be reading her brand of urban fantasy meets horror meets, well, urban fantasy all over again. You will find her at either the site of Seanan McGuire or Mira Grant, and you can– and should! — totally follow her on Twitter (@SeananMcGuire).

This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.

I was that stereotypical little girl out of a Ray Bradbury story waiting to happen: my family didn’t have much money, my bedroom looked like a magpie’s nest crossed with a junk store, I had big blue eyes and curly blonde hair, and best of all, I lived right at the edge of a swampy marsh forest filled with crawdads, scrub grass, wild birds, and snakes of all varieties. I spent my summers running around in the sun until I was almost as brown as the dirt in our apartment building’s yard, and promptly turned the color of chalk when the autumn came. My hair would bleach in the summer, and stay bleached well into the winter; I was a ghost-girl by the time Halloween rolled around, with no color left to my name but that unrelenting white.

I very well may have grown up in the golden age of trick-or-treating. Halloween was a big enough deal in the 1980s that everybody did it, and every house and apartment in sight gave out candy, but it wasn’t yet the modern era of paranoia and refusal to let kids out after dark. Halloween was magic. Every October 31st my mother zipped me into a costume made by my grandmother, handed me my equally homemade (and equally awesome) trick-or-treat sack, blazoned with glow-in-the-dark pumpkins that would lose their glow before I was halfway through my rounds, and shoved me out the door. My mission? To collect as much candy as humanly possible in the short hours between dusk, when trick-or-treating became acceptable, and nine o’clock, when the porch lights started clicking off. (Running up against that unspoken curfew was an art and a science. You could double back to houses you’d visited earlier, and not only would they have forgotten you, there was a good chance you’d be able to score the remainder of the bowl from tired adults who just wanted to go to bed. Or you might get ignored, or yelled at, or placated with things that were distinctly not candy. I got silverware once. I think that guy was drunk.)

The year I was ten, I was dressed as one of the little dead girls from the Nightmare on Elm Street movie series. I had the right “look” for the part, and all I had to do was add some dark circles around my eyes and a white dress I didn’t care about. I haunted the streets of Concord and Clayton, filling my sack with all the sugary goodness it would hold. I knew the shortcuts and the back ways and the best neighborhoods to target, the ones where you could get full-sized candy bars from people whose own children could afford store-bought costumes (still a rarity in those days, and something to be envied). What’s more, I knew the fastest routes from neighborhood to neighborhood, which meant that I could skip the boring commercial blocks and get straight to the good stuff.

And that is why, from the perspective of the man driving too fast around the curve on Bel Air, I suddenly materialized–a dead-white girl in a tattered white dress, with white hair and eyes sunk deep into her skull–from beneath the old creek bridge. There were no other trick-or-treaters on that block, which may have added to the shock of my appearance; he had no other monsters to compare me to. He swerved hard, away from the bridge, and slammed into a tree.

I went back under the bridge and resumed trick-or-treating. I was, after all, not supposed to talk to strange men in cars.

According to the paper the next day, he lost control of his vehicle because he saw a ghost. My mother asked if I’d seen anything strange. I shook my head “no,” and ate another pack of candy corn.

Why do you tell stories?

Because I am incapable of not telling stories. According to my mother, I started roughly five minutes after I started talking (she still recites one of my earliest claims, that the aliens had stolen her real baby and left me, on a regular basis). I think that, were I to take a vow of silence that extended to the written word, I would actually explode. On the other hand, I speak some ASL, so maybe I’d just get more fluent in a hurry…

Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice:

If you want to be a writer, you need to read, and you need to write. Everything else is varying shades of bullshit, and what works for me is not absolutely going to work for you. I know people who find my combination of tight structure and absolute chaos to be incomprehensible, while I find their particular setups to be equally bizarre. But you have to read, or you won’t know what works on a page, and you have to write, or you won’t know what works on your page.

Reading and writing as critical components to a writing life, agreed. What one novel would you recommend to serve as a master class on writing and storytelling for aspiring professional authors?

Yay, questions with no right answer!  But seriously…this is a hugely personal question, and it’s going to be different for every author in the world.  For me, that book was Watership Down.  You know.  With the rabbits.  It was the book where I realized you can have lots of characters and lots of situations and a major quest and not be talking down to your reader and that’s okay.  I was eight when I read it, so it was sort of a step up from the rest of what I had access to.  And it changed my world.  So for me, that was the book.  But you probably have a different book, and that’s cool.  I think this answer changes with cultural background, age of the reader, and what genre that person wants to work in.  And maybe gender, a little bit, especially in science fiction, since so much older science fiction is male-dominant.

I’d say that short stories, though…everyone, regardless of genre leanings, should read Tiptree’s “The Only Really Neat Thing to Do,” Matheson’s “I Am Legend,” King’s “The Mist,” and Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.”  That will build a foundation that lets everything else find the place it needs to stand.

What’s great about being a writer, and conversely, what sucks about it?

I get email from people who feel that they have a close personal relationship with my imaginary friends. That’s pretty awesome. I love that people who actually exist can suddenly engage with the people who exist only in my head. It’s just incredible to know that these stories are getting out there, and that I can tell them to people, and that people will listen.

As for what sucks about it…a lot of people don’t understand that it’s work, it’s hard, and it doesn’t happen as fast as they read. So I start getting “when’s the next one?” the day after a book comes out, and it just makes me so bone-tired that I want to crawl under my bed and stay there for a year. And these are some of the same people asking why I don’t do a book tour, why I don’t come to their town for a signing, why I don’t spend more of my limited writing hours not writing. It makes me so tired. I need a nap.

You are Seanan McGuire. But you are also Mira Grant, author of the most-excellent Feed. I get a lot of authors asking about pseudonyms, so enlighten us: why write with a pseudonym? How did yours come about?

So my stock answer for this is basically “Disney created Touchstone when they wanted to show tits in the movies.”  And that’s basically true.  My Mira Grant stuff is a lot darker than my stuff under my own name. and actually dives into the huge pools of geeky, geeky science that occupy a large percentage of my brain.  Distinguishing the two seemed like a really good idea.  I continue to believe that it was a really good idea, since periodically, my fans discover Mira and go “OH HOLY FUCK WHAT IS THIS SHIT,” and sometimes Mira’s fans discover me and go “WHAT GIRLY FAIRIES TINKER BELL COOTIES WHAT THE FUCK.”  And I like to avoid that.  (Mind you, there’s a huge overlap between my fans, and a lot of people read both of me.  But the outliers can sometimes make my head hurt.)

I was originally going to be “Samantha Grant,” but there’s someone who owns the .com, and my publisher wanted me to have a pseudonym where we could get the .com.  So the shuffle of possible first and last names was run again, and I came up Mira.  It’s a complicated horror movie pun which requires knowledge of two languages to get.  I am very proud of that fact.

Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

My favorite word is probably “abattoir,” which yes, unpleasant meaning, blood on the carpet, I know, but it’s just so much fun to say. My favorite curse word is the uncreative “fuck,” but I’m very creative with my swearing, and just as likely to call you a meatsack or a cockwaffle if I’m mad at you.

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

Without question, Woodchuck Special Reserve Pumpkin Cider. They only make it in the fall, they only make it for one night, it tastes like Halloween in a bottle, and I think I wound up buying or receiving a full hours’-worth of the production from 2011. I wanted more. I have one beautiful bottle in my fridge, waiting for me to finish my current project and reward myself with the Great Pumpkin’s blessing.

My favorite non-alcoholic beverage is Diet Dr Pepper. I could fill a swimming pool with what I drink annually.

Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!

Book: After the Golden Age, Carrie Vaughn. Comic book: Unwritten, Mike Carey. Film: Slither, directed by James Gunn. Game: Kingdom Hearts 2, STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT.

What skills do you bring to help the humans win the inevitable zombie war?

I know how to gut and butcher a deer; I can shoot a longbow, although it’s been years, so my aim may suck (on the other hand, a zombie war is a naturally target-rich environment); I know what plants and animals will kill you along the California coast; and I have a large collection of machetes and baseball bats.

You’ve committed crimes against humanity. They caught you. You get one last meal.

I like to think that, were I to commit crimes against humanity, there would be no one left to catch me, since the slatewiper pandemic would have taken them all out. Maybe the aliens have caught me? I don’t know. Anyway, if this is my last meal, it would consist of whatever I damn well wanted, so…

Appetizers: A plate of sliced heirloom tomatoes, a bowl of potato leek soup made with my recipe, and a cup of fresh candy corn.

Main course: Two roast beef sandwiches and two brisket sandwiches, both from Maverick’s in St. Paul.

Dessert: A pint of Riesling poached pear sorbet from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, and an assortment of cupcakes from Cups and Cakes.

Drinks: With the appetizers, Diet Dr Pepper. With the main course, Christian Brothers ruby port. And with dessert, Woodchuck Pumpkin Cider.

I have just discovered Jeni’s Ice Cream and it is phenomenal. I must know — what other flavors do you like?

My favorite is absolutely the Riesling Poached Pear (hence it being in my last meal), but I have honestly never had any ice cream from them that wasn’t amazing.  My favorites–beyond the pear–are probably Rockway and Apricot, Brambleberry Crisp, Dark Chocolate Peppermint, and their amazing seasonal Heirloom Pumpkin.  That shit is like religion in a waffle cone for a Halloween girl.

What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?

Hopefully, a nap.

More seriously, a new series, InCryptid; lots of new books and stories and thoughts and characters and now we’re back to that whole “nap” idea. I’m hoping to move to Washington state within the next year, so I’m writing as fast as I can now to build myself a buffer for those days when I can’t find my desk and the cats have hidden my spare laptop battery. It’s an exciting life!

Discount Armageddon. First Incryptid book. Coming out next week. Get cocky. Get bad-ass. Tell us in no uncertain terms why everyone should go nab a copy ASAMFP. Kick us in the face with your sales pitch.

You know what I fucking hate in urban fantasy today?  I hate that all the women have to have these huge, improbable super powers, or we’re expected to dismiss them as Mary Sue self-insert author daydreams.  We used to have bad-ass chicks with big guns and great hair, and now we have super models in leather pants who can magic up everything but self-esteem and a fulfilling love life.  It’s the genre, it’s the standard, it’s the can-you-dig-it way things have gotta be.  And you know what?  Fuck.  That.

I want girls with guns whose only super power is spending a few thousand hours at the gym.  I want physics that work.  I want worlds that work, where the underlying science may not matter to the story, but still makes fuckingsense.  I want pixies that can fly because they have hollow skeletal structures coupled with a musculature developed for short-pulse lift, not because ZOMG PIXIES ARE COOL LET’S HAVE SOME PIXIES.  And I want as much ass kicked as humanly possible.

Discount Armageddon is my huge “fuck it, let’s do this.”  It is my I WANT AND I SHALL HAVE.  Because it is built on science and gonzo cryptozoology and biology that actually works if you cock your head and squint.  It has chicks with guns and no super powers but the ability to tango in high heels.  It has functional families and dysfunctional families and people who are people, not an excuse for leather pants.  And it’s a honey trap.  It’s light and fluffy and it has a pink cover, for fuck’s sake, and if you come in, it’s going to get dark, and grim, and bloody, because I am still me, and the second act of trick-or-treating is murder in the corn.  And it’s going to be fucking awesome.

Also you should buy my book because I want to move to a creepy old house in the woods and it’s going to cost a lot to surround the place with barbed wire, suspicious-looking scarecrows, and pit traps.  Plus I have cats the size of small dogs, and if I can’t feed them, they’re going to eat me.

Discount Armageddon.  It’s so fucking awesome it can end the world and save you money at the same time.

(Discount Armageddon at Amazon.)

What of your word-babies (aka “novels”) is most emblematic of you, and why?

Whatever I finished most recently, because I am not a stationary target.  I am constantly changing my approach to damn near everything except for chainsaws and corn mazes, and that means that if you’re looking for “me,” you need to look at the freshest tracks.  So right this second, it’s actually the second InCryptid book.  And in a few months, it’ll be the first of the new Mira Grant duology.

Life moves pretty damn fast.  Try not to blink.