This interview was done at New York Comic Con 2018.
We sat down for a quick chat with Seanan McGuire about her October Daye Series, Thylacine’s, and the Halloween when she formed the basis for an actual local legend.
Keith Rice: The October Daye series is sitting at, like, 12 volumes now. Right?
Seanan McGuire: Right. 13 will come out next year.
KR: Great. Okay. So, how would you describe it for readers who haven’t had the chance to pick it up yet?
SM: October Daye is what happens when you give a trained folklorist an urban fantasy series and no hard limits.
KR: What was your inspiration for Toby Daye, for the character?
SM: So, the very first book in the October Daye series, Rosemary and Rue, starts out with Toby being turned into a fish and left in a pond at the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco for 14 years. And that inspiration for that was that I got stuck on top of one of the moon bridges in the Japanese Tea Gardens. They are basically direct, straight up and down circles and I climbed one like a fool and then could not get down and was just watching this one very large Calico koi swim back and forth and thinking, gosh, that fish must have a very peaceful life. It’s not afraid it’s going to die on top of this bridge. It can do whatever it wants. Wouldn’t it suck if that fish used to be a person? And the whole series kind of unspooled from that point of how miserable can I make this fish that is way too happy when I am frightened.
KR: So, October Daye, the InCryptid series, they all fall pretty broadly under urban fantasy.
SM: Really broadly, yeah.
KR: What draws you to that niche of writing fantasy?
SM: As I mentioned, I am a trained folklorist. I went to the University of California Berkeley–Go Bears–for a folklore degree. And fairytales, if you look at them in the context of the time when they were first being told, are the urban fantasy of their day. When Little Red Riding Hood was a new story that people hadn’t heard before, you probably did have a grandparent or other relative who lived on the other side of a big forest. You probably had heard of people walking into those woods alone and getting savaged by wolves or bears or something else that lived there. It was an immediacy in the same way that Charlene Harris’s vampire books have an immediacy because there were these vampires. They might be living next door. There are these wolves. They might be living in the forest between you and your grandma. So, I just really like fairytales and wanted to write today’s fairytales.
KR: So, your first novel was published in 2009 and you’ve been going at a dizzy pace ever since. How do you juggle your long running series, your music, sleep?
SM: I don’t sleep much. When “Hamilton” was big, literally every single person I have ever met in more than an immediate and casual sense, sent me a copy of “Nonstop” because they thought that was very funny. And that I hadn’t heard it 90 times by that point. It helps that when I was making choices about my life, I said I am a better aunty than I would be a mom. I don’t want children of my own. So, I have cats but no kids. I also am not married at this time. I think it’s absolutely possible to maintain my level of output with children, but you have to have a spouse that’ll be up for at least 50% of the child-rearing duties. So, there are juggling acts I don’t have to perform. And that’s not better or worse than anyone else’s choices. That’s just–you don’t want to leave me alone with the baby. I would do something silly like assume it was a cat and just leave it on the floor with a bowl of Captain Crunch while I went off to write a novel. I don’t sleep enough. I get yelled at a lot for not sleeping. I don’t play enough Overwatch, but I do my best.
KR: I know you love travel.
SM: I do. Well, love is a strong word sometimes.
KR: What’s the one place you want to visit and haven’t had the chance?
SM: I have not yet been to Tokyo which is a little silly when you consider that Tokyo contains everything I love. It has a Disneyland that I haven’t been to. It has Pokémon Centers and I own so many Pokémon plush that my friends joke that going into my bedroom is like stepping into the tall grass. It has entire stores devoted to fancy dolls and I’m a fancy doll collector. So, Tokyo is really on the big bucket list. Second on the list is wherever in Australia I can actually finally find a live Thylacine to prove that they are still out there.
KR: Okay. So, last question. We’re coming up on Halloween. What’s your all-time favorite horror story?
SM: My all-time favorite horror story? My all-time favorite horror story is actually the one I pulled off accidentally. I grew up very, very poor. I grew up so far below the poverty line that you couldn’t see it on a clear day. And this meant that Halloween was serious business because for Halloween I could get candy the same as the kids whose parents could afford to buy them candy. And this means I planned for Halloween like I was planning the siege of a small fictional nation. I drew up maps. I would actually and creepily – and I acknowledge as an adult that this was a creepy thing for child-me to do – I would sit in the grocery store and watch to see who bought the good candy and see if I recognize them as the parents of any of my classmates, so that I could prioritize their neighborhoods.
I would generally leave the house about six p.m. and stay out until all the pumpkins were off. And my mother was very distracted. I had two sisters, one 6 years younger and one 7 years younger. So, by the time I was nine my mother was not keeping a very close eye on what I did.
So, the Halloween when I was 11, I got this long white, nightgown from the Goodwill. I painted every exposed inch of my body with talcum powder and then went over that with craft glitter. And it turns out that while I did not quite glow in the dark. I came very, very close to glowing in the dark. This was not good enough for me, so I mixed up some fake blood and pretty much painted myself in fake blood from the knee down and from the wrist down. And I had flip-flops on, so it looked like I was barefoot. So, you have this glowing white, blood-dripping figure. And that might still have been okay except for the part where to get from the last good neighborhood, which was Bel Air Heights, back to the neighborhood where I live, which was Maclear Courts, I decided it would be a really good idea to walk through the dry storm culverts because it hadn’t rained in a while. And that would cut off four or five blocks of my trip and a good deal of traffic.
So, I went under the road, walked through the storm culvert and then popped up as if from the ground on the side of the creek that faced the Court. And the man who had been coming around the curve up the street, saw me suddenly appear with no warning whatsoever, not looking like a small child trick or treating, but looking like the dead person from the culvert. And he crashed his car into a tree. And it was in the papers the next day. This man was contesting a drunk driving charge because he hadn’t been driving drunk. He literally saw a ghost come out of the storm culvert. And that is my favorite horror story because the kids in that neighborhood still tell it, like there’s a whole urban legend now that this one storm drain is haunted by the ghost of a girl who was killed by a car. I’m like, no, it’s haunted by a candy hungry 11-year-old and a five dollar nightgown from Goodwill.
Check out Seanan McGuire’s Night and Silence!
Keith Rice is a West Virginia native and a freelance writer residing in Philadelphia with his lovely, if oft exasperated wife and three cats. Keith fosters an enthusiastic appreciation for beer and scotch, collects comics, and most importantly is an avid reader and movie lover. Oh, he’s a pretty big fan of sci-fi and fantasy as well. Drop him a line @Keith_Rice1.