Campbell award nominee Seanan McGuire is a busy woman. The author of the Toby Daye fairytale noir series, of which novels Rosemary and Rue and A Local Habitation have been released, she is currently hard at work editing and writing the next three. When not writing she composes and performs science-fiction, fantasy, and horror-related songs, with 3 released CDs and another in the works. She is working on Midnight Blue Light Special, the second in a series about cryptozoologists with a surreal approach to monster-hunting; researching Nativity of Chance, an urban fantasy in the Tim Powers style of weird; working on Deathless, a supernatural romance with a Romero twist; and working on Sit, Stay, I Hate You, the second novel starring teenage shape shifter Clady Porter. She also writes “science fiction zombie political thrillers” as Mira Grant, with first of Mira’s books, Feed, out this year.
She took a few moments out from writing, planning an Australian visit and probably world domination to answer a few questions for us.
1. Are you looking forward to meeting some of our fascinatingly dangerous wildlife here in Australia, and are there any Australian tales just begging to be told?
I have wanted to go to Australia since I was five years old and they started showing the Dot and the Kangaroo specials on local kiddie TV. I can’t begin to express how excited I am. I’m going to a bunch of reptile parks and zoos, I’m setting up a few tours, and I really hope I get to see lots of wonderful things we don’t have in California. (I refer to my home state as “Australia West,” due to our large number of venomous creatures, and fondness for being on fire.)
I want to set one of the later InCryptid books in Australia. I think Jonathan and Shelby Price would have a really lovely time there.
2. Can you tell me a little about the 2010 Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and what it means for you to be nominated?
The Campbell Award for Best New Writer is given in conjunction with the Hugo Awards, and is essentially a shiny gold star that says “well done, you.” Also, you get a tiara. New speculative fiction authors are eligible for two years from their first publication. Being nominated is…I cried. I really, truly cried. I never thought I’d make the ballot, and being nominated is a crazy fever dream honor. And if I win, I get a tiara in Australia, which is like being crowned Princess of the Kingdom of Poison and Flame. That’s like a life’s goal, right there.
3. What will you be bringing to read on the trip, and what can’t a writer travel without?
I don’t know what I’ll be bringing to read, other than probably The Stand by Stephen King (one of my favorite books of all time), and probably some guide books. I have a lot of writing to do while I’m traveling, so I figure most of my “free time” will be spent doing that. A writer’s work is never done!
As for what a writer can’t travel without…in my case, that means laptop, power cord, adapter (for local plugs, as many countries have different outlet types), iPod, good speakers, day planner, pens, notebooks, and the sheer stubborn will to ignore interesting things in favor of editing. A digital camera is also good, since that helps with using things you saw in your travels accurately when incorporating them into future stories.
4. A lot of people would imagine that writing fiction – especially supernatural and horror – would let you off the hook in terms of keeping it real, but you have said that research is crucial to writing. What’s your approach to making the impossible all too possible in your books?
Research, reading, and logic. For example: What makes a mammal? Most people answer “warm blood, has hair, nurses its young,” while making all sorts of other assumptions about internal biology. But not all mammals are warm-blooded — the naked mole rat is an ectotherm, just like a lizard. Not all mammals actually nurse their young — some, like the echidna, lactate through specialized sweat glands, instead of through teats. In the end, all that matters is hair. So I can use real-world biology to justify a species of telepathic parastic wasps that look just like human beings…right up until they decide you’re a danger to the hive.
Reading non-fiction, travel, and being willing to learn lots of details about horrible things will go a long way toward making the unreal as realistic as possible…and sometimes that’s the scariest stuff of all.
5. For Feed, a book on journalism in a post-zombie apocalypse world, you did a lot of learning on virology while coming up with a zombie strain. What stranger than fiction fact could you not have made up, and should we really be worrying about a world ending virus?
Oh, most of them. Viruses are some of the scariest things in the world. They’re all around us, they’ve always been with us — hell, there’s DNA evidence to indicate that they made us. Probably the creepiest thing I learned while studying virology was that every species has its own pox virus. Cowpox can give some protection from smallpox (chickenpox can’t, because it’s not actually a member of that family). So the chance that, say, kangaroopox will someday jump to the human population isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility.
I think that worrying about a global pandemic is, sadly, only sensible. People don’t respect quarantine procedures very well, they don’t necessarily think about what they’re doing before, say, going to an area where malaria is endemic without taking their anti-malarial drugs, and new diseases are arising every day. Travel means things can spread before we even know that they exist. I highly recommend reading The Return of the Black Death: The World’s Greatest Serial Killer, The Speckled Monster, and Virus X if you want to know more.
6. What advice would you give a budding writer with a big idea for a story?
Don’t feel like you have to write it right away, or like you have to get it right the first time. I have some big ideas that I’m still holding off on, because I’m not quite where I want to be as a writer before I tackle them. At the same time, don’t shy away from a challenge; tackle it with both feet, and see where it takes you. You can always revise things until they work.
Never give up. Nothing is perfect right out the starting gate; that’s what drafts are for.
If you want to catch her, she will be visiting Melbourne for Aussiecon 4 (Worldcon 2010) from Sep 2-6, 2010, and would love to chat about the supernatural, the bizarrely natural, virology, fantasy and funny genre fiction and My Little Ponies. And writing, of course.