Throughout September, we’re celebrating the women of queer Sci-Fi/Fantasy! You can find the master-list of posts and the schedule here!
During San Diego Comic Con, I found a few minutes to chat with author Seanan McGuire, author of dozens of novels and short stories, including Every Heart a Doorway (one of my all-time favorites!) and the October Daye series! In between her incredibly busy schedule, Seanan found time to talk to me about writing queer characters in genre fiction, and balancing several different series at the same time!
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today!
To start off with—I’m asexual, and Every Heart a Doorway was a book that meant a lot to me. So I was wondering where did the idea for the Wayward Children series come from?
SM: Well, several years ago I wrote a song, called “Wicked Girls”, which is about all of the girls from the various portal fantasies—Dorothy and Alice and all of them—and what happened to them after their stories.
Dorothy just wanted something that she could believe in,
A gray dustbowl girl in a life she was better off leavin’.
She made her escape, went from gray into green,
And she could have got clear, and she could have got clean,
But she chose to be good and go back to the gray Kansas sky
Where color’s a fable and freedom’s a fairy tale lie.
And it always bothered me that that’s the ending for all these girls. So I kind of wanted to do the book version of “Wicked Girls”. But even though most of those characters are in the public domain, I wanted my own characters to play with. So that’s where we started from.
The second book in this series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, just came out a couple of months ago. It follows the twins, Jack and Jill, through their own fantasy world adventure. Why was their story the next one to be told?
Well, Jack is pansexual, and she has O.C.D. And I’m pansexual, and I have O.C.D. So if I was going to go from where I started, Jack’s was the story that was most personal to me. So I wanted to tell that next.
And there’s a third one, Beneath the Sugar Sky, out in January 2018.
Yes! We’re alternating a book set at the school, with one of the prequels. We’ll go back and forth. It begins when a girl named Rini falls out of the sky and into the turtle pond.
Jumping to some of your other series, you’ve actually written quite a few of LGBTQ+ characters! Can you talk about them a bit?
Well just in the Wayward Children series, there’s Nancy, who’s asexual, and Kade, who’s trans. And Kade is actually my fourth major trans character. I have Gerry Marsh over in the Indexing series, there’s the Princess in the Velveteen Vs. series, and there’s a character in the October Daye series—where it’s not the point of the character, so I like to let people find that out by themselves.
I have a lot of lesbians!
I’ve dated a lot of lesbians, so I figure I should have a lot of lesbians in my books! It only seems polite!
The romantic lead of the October Daye series is actually bisexual, and we’ve had stories about his past relationships show up.
It’s a little harder—and I say this as a pansexual person—it’s a little harder to get pan rep right now. Because you don’t want to feed into that fictional stereotype. If you’re a real person who chooses to have a new significant other every week, that’s cool, that is a choice you get to make. If I as the author make that choice for a pansexual character, I have to consider the negative stereotypes that’s playing into. So it can be really hard to show pan rep, because you don’t want to break them up with their S.O. every five minutes just to show them dating a different type of person.
It’s kind of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t, because if you don’t show it on page, the reader is going to assume the character is heterosexual. If you do show it, you risk the negative stereotypes.
I’m always looking to include more representation. Right not the problem I’m running into is that I have a lot of representation across the various series and various books, but I also have a super high body count! I’m writing murder mysteries, sci-fi thrillers… I’m writing books where people die. And I try really, really hard—well, I try to kill the straight people first, because there’s more of them—
But eventually you run out of straight people! Right?
So I don’t want to feed into those bad stereotypes, again.
Right, the “killing your gays” tropes.
But I’m not taking out the one load-bearing lesbian. I’m killing one of fifteen. I just have to keep balancing that, to make sure that I don’t go, “Well here’s some great rep, but it’s literally the only rep of its kind in Science Fiction, and this character is standing right in front of a speeding train…. Shit.”
Talking about the rep, do you get a lot of emails from readers who are queer who are excited to see this kind of rep in genre fiction, where it’s honestly very rare!
I do, I do! And yeah, it is rare, and that kinda makes me mad at the world. It’s upsetting to think that there are adults who have waited their whole lives to see a character in a book say, “I am asexual.” And I’ve had a few readers come to me and say that the scene where Nancy explains her asexuality in Every Heart a Doorway is written as very ‘Asexuality 101’. That was intentional, because I wanted ace people to see themselves on the page, but also to be able to hand the book over to a non-ace friend and say, “Here you go.”
The Wayward Children series is just one of the many that you write—you also have the October Daye series, and your books under the name Mira Grant, among others! How do you keep all of these worlds separate?
I take a lot of notes! And I tell people that it’s a lot like watching different shows on television: if you watch Lucifer and you watch Black Mirror, you’re not going to get confused as to which show the characters belong in. You may write crossover fic in your head, but you always know where you’re going to find the various characters. So I just change channel!
Do you ever have to go back and reference your own notes, or Excel spreadsheets?
I do, especially with something like the October Daye books, where number 11 is coming out in September. Sometimes I don’t remember what color I said a minor character’s eyes are—especially when they showed up eight books ago! So I take a lot of notes, and check my continuity guides pretty regularly.
Among all of the genres that you write—Sci Fi, Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy—what’s your favorite to write in?
Urban Fantasy, absolutely. That’s where the majority of my work is set, and it’s what I have the most fun with.
Are there any genres you’ve thought about writing in, but just haven’t gotten the chance to yet?
I would like to do a Cozy Mystery at some point, but I’m told those don’t sell, so I’m probably going to have to create a third pseudonym before I do that.
You know what? I would buy one, so…
Unfortunately there’s just not a big enough audience to sustain a series.
So what else do you have coming out soon?
Well, the newest October Daye book just came out [on September 5]. And I actually have a Deadlands tie-in book coming out October. That’s a roll playing game set in the Wild West, so I’m excited about that. And then my next Mira Grant book is coming out in November, and that’s Into the Drowning Deep, which is about biologically feasible killer mermaids.
*laughing* Those words…
I know, I know, but I did a lot of research! And I had a lot of fun!
Okay, last question! What’s the last book you read that you’d tell people to stop everything now and go read.
Winter Tide, by Ruthanna Emrys. It’s from Tor.com, and it’s a modern re-imagining of the Cthulhu mythos. It’s basically been designed to make Lovecraft rise from the grave and yell at us dirty, dirty female and queer people for getting our hands all over his stuff. Like, it’s got gorgeous representation—one of the main characters is gay, one of the secondary characters is queer. Our main speaking character is the last surviving female Deep One. It’s just full of queer characters, People of Color! It’s so good, I wish I had written it!
Awesome! Thank you so much for joining us today!
Seanan McGuire was born in Martinez, California, and raised in a wide variety of locations, most of which boasted some sort of dangerous native wildlife. Despite her almost magnetic attraction to anything venomous, she somehow managed to survive long enough to acquire a typewriter, a reasonable grasp of the English language, and the desire to combine the two. The fact that she wasn’t killed for using her typewriter at three o’clock in the morning is probably more impressive than her lack of death by spider-bite.
Seanan is the author of the October Daye urban fantasies, the InCryptid urban fantasies, and several other works both stand-alone and in trilogies or duologies. In case that wasn’t enough, she also writes under the pseudonym “Mira Grant.” For details on her work as Mira, check out MiraGrant.com.
Seanan was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her novel Feed (as Mira Grant) was named as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2010. In 2013 she became the first person ever to appear five times on the same Hugo Ballot.
Find her online at http://seananmcguire.com/index.php