Seanan McGuire is an incredibly prolific writer: Under both her own name and the pseudonym Mira Grant, she currently writes the October Daye and InCryptid series, plus the Parasitology and Newsflesh universes. What’s more, she’ll be diving back into Newsflesh this year with a novel and a novella collection about bloggers in the post-zombie apocalypse. Not to mention her novella Every Heart a Doorway, available April 5 from Tor.com Publishing. How does she do it all? In her recent Reddit AMA on r/books, she explained, “I’m a Steve Irwin writer. I plot along until I find a crocodile, and then I jump on it and try to wrestle. Honestly, I think that’s a lot of what keeps things interesting.” She’s also a prolific reader; seriously, what black magic does it take to be able to read 300-500 books a year?
Read on for highlights from McGuire’s AMA, including how her favorite genre is urban fantasy (“I find it soothing”), hints as to how far out she’s plotted October Daye and InCryptid, and Disneyland and -world recommendations galore!
Every Parlor an Inspiration
inbedwithabook: I’m really pumped for Every Heart a Doorway—where did the idea for that come from?
SM: I very rarely can say “here, right here, this is where the idea came from.” So I don’t really know. But I have lots of notes from when I started refining it, so I can say with some confidence that I had the idea in Talis Kimberley’s parlor.
The Difference Between “Love” and “Holy Shit, What, No”
Though Chtorrr asked the standard question of “What books made you love reading as a kid?”, McGuire’s response brought in the more realistic notion of how books can inspire by gutting you emotionally:
Is “all of them” a bad answer?
I learned to read on my own, from episode titles on serial television shows (Doctor Who and He-Man, mostly), and then started working my way through whatever I could get my hands on. I read a lot of things too early, not in the sense of “this screwed me up,” but in the sense of “this didn’t make sense until I re-read it as an adult.”
But the books that made me go “holy shit, what, no, this can’t be over” were probably, top five…
- The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle.
- Mermaid’s Song, Alida Van Gores.
- Watership Down, Richard Adams.
- Mirabile, Janet Kagen.
- V, A.C. Crispin.
A note on V: it was a novelization of the TV series. And it was so, so important, because it showed me how much more story there was than they could show me on TV. I think it was V that made me really want to know what the secret stories behind all the things were.
Dispatches from the Fanfic Mines
Like Naomi Novik, McGuire cut her teeth on writing fanfiction. When minorearth asked what useful writing lessons can be gleaned from fanfic, McGuire provided a wonderfully detailed answer:
The fanfic mines taught me how to write.
They taught me that no matter what you do, you can’t control how a story will be received. When Once More With Feeling came out, I spent a weekend meticulously rewriting it as a Harry Potter parody, even though I was not a part of HP fandom. Not to brag, but I am very, very good at scansion: when I write a parody of a song, you can sing the parody perfectly. Well, the people who knew me from other fandoms cooed over my parody, and then forgot about it. Meanwhile, someone over in HP fandom did the same thing, but not nearly as well—the songs were unsingable, because the scansion was terrible—and people reacted like it was the most amazing thing they’d ever seen. I didn’t have the name recognition to make them click. Sometimes it’s not quality, it’s placement and luck.
They taught me that you will improve with time and effort. My earliest fanfic is not great. There’s some talent there, but there’s not a lot of skill; I was just flinging things at the wall and waiting to see what would stick. But it got better, and better, and eventually, it got good. Perseverence forgives a lot of sins.
They taught me that you have to read and review and rewrite just as much as you write. That’s what makes you part of a community; that’s what keeps you from becoming out-dated.
They taught me that it’s not a zero-sum game. Yeah, there will always be someone else whose story gets more clicks and more accolades, but for one person, you just wrote the best thing they’ve ever read. For one person, you’ve changed the world.
They also taught me that original female characters will be judged much more harshly than original male characters. They made me work harder.
They taught me a lot.
Extra, Extra, Read All About the New Newsflesh!
Many Redditors were dying to know if, when, and how McGuire—as Mira Grant—would be diving back into the world of Newsflesh, set in a future where we’re managing the zombie population and where bloggers bring more reliable (and ethical) news than the mainstream media. First off, in response to canadiandiamond‘s question, McGuire shared some exciting news:
Am I planning to write anything new in the Newsflesh universe? From my perspective, no, ’cause I already turned it in, but from your perspective, absolutely! Rise comes out in June, and Feedback is out in September. Rise is the novella collection, and includes two previously unpublished novellas featuring the Mason family. Feedback is a brand-new novel set during the same time period as Feed, but following the Democratic campaign, rather than the Republicans. It’s about a whole new blogging team, although there is some overlap with minor characters from the original trilogy.
Am I planning to write more about the characters from the original trilogy? Not currently. I sort of feel like they’ve earned their happy endings. But that could change! I’ve met me, and I am nothing if not fickle.
Prompted by starpilotsix‘s question, she shared some novella titles:
Rise will be out in June. It will contain all the previous shorter work, including “Everglades” (which Orbit has never had the rights to print before), and two new novellas, “All the Pretty Little Horses” and “Coming to You Live.”
Critical_Liz praised the Newsflesh Australia-set novella “How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea” and asked if we’ll see more international Newsflesh stories:
I would love to do more novellas from different parts of the world. Or, in my perfect world where the movie gets made and we get to be the next big thing, I’d like to do an anthology of authors writing their takes on my zombie apocalypse, because it really needs the chance to go fully global.
But Is She Done with Zombies?
itsapezwitch: I looooooooooved the Newsflesh trilogy, it was the best zombie book series I’ve read. Do you have plans to write more zombie books, in that world or separately?
SM: I have two zombie books coming out in 2016—Rise and Feedback—and there are people who will argue that my Parasitology trilogy was about zombies as much as it was about anything else. I’m feeling sort of done with zombies for the moment, but that could change in the future.
GoaDragon also asked about McGuire’s favorite zombie media, and she responded with a short (and varied) list:
- Favorite zombie book, The Raising of Stony Mayhall, Daryl Gregory.
- Favorite zombie film, Slither, written/directed by James Gunn.
- Favorite zombie comic, iZombie.
- Favorite zombie on television, Ghoulia Yelps, from Monster High.
But How About Mira Grant?
sarahendipity: Do you think you’ll ever retire your pen name? Why or why not?
SM: I will retire Mira Grant if she stops being a good use of my time. :)
And What About Parasitology?
Sychophantom: Any plans for more stories in the Parasitology universe?
SM: Not yet, but who knows? If you’d asked me right after Blackout, I would have said there were no more stories in Newsflesh, so…
On End Games and Not Leaving People Hanging
Halaku: Do you have endpoints plotted out for InCryptid or October Daye, somewhere you know the overall story is headed?
SM: On October Daye, I know exactly where the ending is. We veer left or right sometimes, to spend a little while exploring interesting landmarks (see! The Biggest Ball of Twine in Urban Fantasy!), but I always have my eyes on the final book. This is also why I tend to try to re-up my contract in blocks of three. That way, if my publisher ever says “I don’t think we’re going to take any more after this batch is finished,” I can speed up and get to the end without worrying that I’m going to leave people hanging.
In InCryptid, the ending is a little more malleable, because every member of the family has their own natural end-point, in addition to the ending for the overall family story. So Verity may have an ending long before Antimony does, and everyone may finish before Elsie. That sort of thing. There, I make sure I know how each family member ends once their turn comes up, and otherwise let the metaplot go where it will.
On Giving Characters Another Chance
travishall456: If you could pull a character from another writer’s world into yours, who would it be?
SM: Assuming you mean “and then you get to keep them, and they are yours, and no one can take them away or hurt them again,” I would rescue Jo Harvelle, from Supernatural. She deserved so much better than she got, and I want to give her another chance.
The Non-SFF Works of Seanan McGuire
justrandomguy2911: Was there any story inspired by true events?
SM: I wrote a romantic comedy called Chasing St. Margaret that was largely inspired by true events, but it’s not currently available, sadly.
The Very Best
TheDanWells: At the risk of giving the entire world a giant spoiler and/or time to prepare: if you wanted to destroy the world, how would you do it?
SM: I would do it with great care, and even greater love, because you deserve the very best. The very…very…best.