Teen Skepchick Interviews: Seanan McGuire

This post is part of the Teen Skepchick Interviews series, where TS writers talk with amazing women scientists, skeptics—and in this special series, sci-fi and fantasy writers—about life, the universe, and everything.

Let’s face it: It is a rare skeptic who doesn’t get into sci-fi, fantasy, or both. And by “get into,” I’m not referring to simply enjoying a chapter before bed. Yawn. Many of us know every detail of the character’s lives and worlds, and we can (and do) easily imagine ourselves living there. Sometimes, as at the recent sci-fi/fantasy convention CONvergence, we even have the opportunity to step into these worlds in elaborate and often painstakingly accurate costumes. Who says skeptics have no imagination?

And when it comes to imagination, Seanan McGuire wrote the book. Or books. Her October Daye series is an inventive and often humorous combination of mythology, detective mystery, fairy tale, and more, with fairies and other magical beings unlike anything you’ve seen before. So we were thrilled to have the chance to get inside her charmingly twisted mind to talk about writing, sci-fi and fantasy, and, of course, filk.

What exactly is urban fantasy? Does “urban” describe more than just setting?

“Urban fantasy” refers to any fantasy work set in the present day (plus or minus about twenty years), using the modern world as a backdrop for the fantastic elements of the story. The bulk of urban fantasy is set in cities—hence the name—but you also get urban fantasy set in small towns, suburbs, and the middle of absolutely nowhere. It’s less a matter of describing the setting than it is describing the period and the mood. They’re our modern fairy tales.

Did you write as a teen?

Yes. Constantly.

Were you into fantasy and sci-fi as a teen?

Yes. As the piles and piles and piles of books I still have from those years can attest.

What do you see as the difference between sci-fi and fantasy?

The real, solid difference between sci-fi and fantasy is this: can it be explained? If it relies on magic, it’s fantasy. If it relies on science, it’s science fiction. The term “science fantasy” is occasionally used for things which rely on technological trappings for their “spells,” but never actually make any attempt at realism.

Do you think sci-fi and fantasy genres are including more strong female characters? Aside from your own, any favorites?

I think it’s happening, slowly. Part of the problem is that “strong female character” is sometimes taken to mean “fights evil in high heels and a G-string.” Since we don’t require our strong male characters to fight evil in a thong, I don’t see why the females should be forced to do so. Still, we get more well-rounded female characters every year, and the trend is a positive one. I adore Tanya Huff’s Charlie Gale, Warehouse 13’s Claudia and Myka, and Sam and Carly from iCarly.

What drew you to write about faeries?

I love the old British fairy and folk tales about the fae, and I get annoyed sometimes at the way we infantilize them in modern fiction. The fae will beat you stupid for looking at them funny, and I wanted to capture that. So I wrote about faeries. It works out pretty well for me. I have a lot of fun, and I already own all my research material!

Any advice for teens, especially young women, who are aspiring sci-fi/fantasy writers?

Write constantly. Read everything you can get your hands on. Get yourself a good grounding in the classics of your genre—don’t just read what’s new and shiny, read Wyndham and Matteson and Wells and Bradbury. Read outside your genre, too, so that you’ll know what your options are. Accept that you may suck at first, but you only improve by trying.

What is filk?

Filk is the folk music of science fiction and fantasy. It’s also a really good way to spend a weekend.

How do your different artistic interests intersect, such as your music and your writing?

Everything is everything to me. I write songs about my books and draw comic strips about my songs. I am my own ecosystem.

Who would win in a fight, Twilight Sparkle Little Pony or the American Girl doll Molly McIntire?

I don’t actually follow American Girl—I collect some of the furniture for my ball-jointed dolls, but don’t have a single AG. So I’m going to say neither. Megan and Firefly will fly in from Ponyland and unleash a can of rainbow whoop-ass on both of them.

Seanan McGuire was born and raised in Northern California, where she learned to fear weather and adore venomous snakes. She has been writing since she figured out that it was an option, and “went pro” in 2009, resulting in her winning the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. When not writing, she records albums of original music, draws comic strips, watches a lot of horror movies, and grooms her collection of massive fluffy cats. She also collects machetes and My Little Ponies, which really tells you everything you need to know

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Melanie Mallon

Melanie Mallon

Melanie is a freelance editor and writer living in a small town outside Minneapolis with her husband, two kids, dog, and two cats. When not making fun of bad charts or running the Uncensorship Project, she spends her time wrangling commas, making colon jokes, and putting out random dumpster fires. You can find her on Twitter as @MelMall, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

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