Humans Need Stories: A Chat With Seanan McGuire

Issue 3: Knowledge

©Beckett Gladney

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is also known as the frequency illusion, and it perfectly describes Speculative City’s early encounters with Seanan McGuire. Devon, a fan of Tor Books, first saw McGuire’s novella Every Heart a Doorway on the publisher’s new release list back in 2016. At the same time, Meera saw the book’s cover peeking out of the recommended shelf at her local comic/bookstore. After mentioning the book to each other, McGuire’s name and works became a reoccurring specter, suddenly appearing on blogs, as ads in other magazines, in online shopping carts (wait, that wasn’t coincidental…). 

Upon further investigation and after finally reading some of her books, we realized there was no surprise as to why McGuire’s name seemed to be everywhere. 

Seanan McGuire hit the speculative fiction scene in 2009 with her first novel Rosemary and Rue, which won her the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. In the ten years to follow, she published thirty-eight more novels and won an additional three awards: the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus.

And those awards are not meaningless titles. McGuire writes intricate works that explore a variety of themes, from parasitology, when writing as Mira Grant, to Irish mythology intertwined with the fay and their many complexities. Her fiction is both smart and wildly consumable. In a short time, McGuire has secured her place in the canon of great speculative fiction writers and is continuing to change the literary landscape for the weird and the better. 

We thought immediately of her when reflecting on this issue’s theme—knowledge. From reading her works and listening to other interviews, it’s undeniable that she is an incredibly knowledgeable writer. So, imagine our shock when she agreed to an interview with little ol’ us. 

We had heard an interview in The Worldshapers about how McGuire consumed a tapeworm to familiarize herself with them for a book. We needed to know more. What other adventurous moves has McGuire pulled to get information to supplement her works?

And we jumped to ask that first. 

Perhaps in sensing our intrigue, McGuire skirted the question, instead answering that she has gained quite a bit of knowledge through her research—knowledge that she’s in no rush to share with us here.

McGuire: “I’d really like to use those things someday; I’m not going to tell you what they are!”

While disappointed with that response, the thought of McGuire holding a wealth of strange and exciting information waiting to make its way into a new book set us abuzz pondering just what she wouldn’t tell us. Aware that we couldn’t pull any fast ones on McGuire, we turned our attention to the art and skill of writing, in a more general sense.

McGuire dedicates a lot of energy to research in order to inform her work. While many speculative fiction authors rely on research to inspire, imagine, and ground their stories, McGuire takes this pursuit to a whole new level. (Did we mention she ate a parasite?) Her commitment to research ensures unique and compelling stories, but, most importantly, it helps to give her work authenticity. Into the Drowning Deep, which McGuire writes as Mira Grant, follows a young scientist’s investigation of a particularly vicious species of mermaid. The depth and breadth of McGuire’s research provides details that make the work read credibly—almost as if this fictitious creature could exist here and now. But we wondered, was any other motive guiding McGuire’s commitment to research? Stories can act as allegories, mediums through which an author can impart lessons or wisdom to the audience. Did this play into McGuire’s conception and intent with a story?

McGuire: “I don’t think it’s possible to write fiction without writing allegory, at least on some level. We’re all trying to say something, always. Whether that’s “wisdom” is sort of up to the individual.”

And that’s what makes fiction so thrilling—the variety of interpretations. It’s this potential that captured our shared attention after reading the first Wayward Children book, Every Heart A Doorway (which we also reviewed in Issue 1).

McGuire: “I try to share what I can, but whether any given person picks something up is entirely up to them.”

In our experience, writing can be just as elucidating as reading. Through research, dedication, and the perfection of one’s craft, knowledge—pragmatic or philosophical—can be gained. So, we wanted to know if McGuire has learned anything specific through her craft.

McGuire: “Sometimes when I think I am being absolutely, utterly, crystal clear, I’m actually being sort of murky and confusing, and that’s why I need editors to make sure that what I put on the page matches what’s going on in my head.”

As editors, we, of course, appreciated her response. Though many don’t realize it, writing is often a collaborative endeavor where each participant uses their particular knowledge to actualize the best story possible. Unable to remove our editors’ caps for a moment, we asked if there was anything she wanted to see change in the realm of publishing.

McGuire: “I’d like people to stop mocking genres they don’t care for—humans need stories. We need to remember that, and let people seek the stories that make the world a little easier.”

We swooned at this answer. Speculative fiction is often disregarded as pulp and fluff, but the speculative worlds it creates allow us to reflect on our own while circumventing biases and prejudices informed by our lived realities. Speculative fiction is a conduit for knowledge dressed in strange and exciting clothes. One can’t put a price on the value of narratives, and we’d be wise as a community to let go of past notions that resign the genre to the back of the bookstore.

Grateful and conscious of the time McGuire spared for us, we wrapped things up with one last question. Though it was certainly a stock question, we admire and enjoy McGuire’s work and could not pass up the opportunity to pick her brain about any upcoming authors we weren’t clued in on yet.

McGuire: “I’ve enjoyed the works of Ruthanna Emrys immensely, and as she’s not a household name yet—although she should be—I’m going to say she counts as upcoming, and you really ought to check her out.”

And so the cycle continues. Another book to add the to-read list.

Naturally, there are also more books from McGuire to devour this year. January saw the release of the fourth Wayward Children book, In an Absent Dream. And the next book in the InCryptid series, That Ain’t Witchcraft, came out earlier this month.


Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire is a native Californian, which has resulted in her being exceedingly laid-back about venomous wildlife, and terrified of weather. When not writing urban fantasy (as herself) and science fiction thrillers (as Mira Grant), she likes to watch way too many horror movies, wander around in swamps, record albums of original music, and harass her cats.

Seanan is the author of the October Daye, InCryptid, and Indexing series of urban fantasies; the Newsflesh trilogy; the Parasitology duology; and the “Velveteen vs.” superhero shorts. Her cats, Lilly, Alice, and Thomas, are plotting world domination even as we speak, but are easily distracted by feathers on sticks, so mankind is probably safe. For now.

Seanan’s favorite things include the X-Men, folklore, and the Black Death. No, seriously. She writes all biographies in the third person, because it’s easier that way.