To mark the release of the seventh October Daye book, Chimes at Midnight, Seanan McGuire joined us to chat about writing, Toby’s world, Chimes at Midnight, and the most original lightsaber color choice ever. Describing Seanan’s published works as prolific is an understatement. Last year, she set a record by being the first woman to be nominated for four Hugos. This year, she broke another record becoming the first person to be nominated five times on the Hugo ballot. Both years, her podcast, SF Squeecast, took home the award.
So join us in welcoming Seanan to Lytherus, and read on for one of the funniest, informative, suspense inducing interviews…and be sure to enter the giveaway at the end for your own copy of Chimes at Midnight!
Since this is the first time you’ve visited our site, can you tell our readers a bit about how the writing process works for you? Where your ideas come from, what routines you use, whether or not you outline, ect.
“My ideas come from everywhere. I’ve said, frequently, that ideas—even good ideas—are cheap. They’re not even the nuts and bolts of writing, they’re the pencil you use to draw your blueprints. Ideas are worth nothing without hard work. As for my routines, I write every day, splitting my time between the current novel project and the current short story project. When I have made my set word count for the day, sometimes plus a little extra, I stop and process any edits that are waiting for my attention. Then I’m very likely to start writing again, because it soothes me. I do outline, but only very roughly—I prefer to see the story unfold in something close to real time.”
Even though this interview is largely focused on your October Daye series, can you talk a bit about all your other activities? I know you have other books, short stories, Kindle serials, songs, and even a podcast.
“I write two ongoing urban fantasy series under my own name, the October Daye books and the InCryptid books; I write medical science fiction thrillers under the name Mira Grant; I record roughly one album of science fiction folk music a year; I’m a founding member of the Hugo Award-winning SF Squeecast; I watch a lot of television; I write a lot of short stories. I don’t sleep much.”
Switching back to Toby, where did this idea of a street-smart, half-fae, smart-alec, detective come from?
“A visit to Golden Gate Park. I was watching the koi, and Toby was suddenly there. She had probably been brewing in my subconscious for quite some time, and when she saw her opportunity, she took it.”
The way a lot of main character in modern fantasy suddenly become uber power and shift their personalities to accommodate is fast becoming a pet peeve of mine. To date, I think Toby is the only heroine I know that hasn’t fallen into this trap. Despite experiencing a tremendous change, she’s still very much Toby and still very limited and fallible. I’m curious if she just sort of came that way or if you’re deliberately steering her down that path?
“I am deliberately steering her down that path. Super-powerful, infallible characters are no fun to write! Toby has gotten stronger, both personally and power-wise, since the start of the series, but every step comes with a cost.”
You weave a lot of different myth and literature into your stories. I recognize some of the terms and backgrounds from Celtic and Welsh mythology, but much of your own mythos is obviously original. Can you give some main examples of what you’ve borrowed and what you’ve created?
“Most of the fae races are borrowed in name and then created in details—there’s nothing in the folklore about Daoine Sidhe being able to read your memories by drinking your blood, for example. The idea was to make something that was to fae mythology as Xena: Warrior Princess was to actual life in ancient Greece.”
Similarly, with what you have borrowed, are those things you are deliberately researching and bringing in, or do they simply spring from the background knowledge of mythology you clearly have?
“Both. I research everything before I included. Choices always matter. I want them to be as informed as possible.”
I’ve read your blog long enough to know this is probably an unfairly broad question, but how do you go about crafting the rules of faerie? Does the story shape them or do they shape the story?
“I can’t answer this. I would need a whiteboard, some dry erase markers, and an hour to talk about story structure and evolution. I’m sorry.”
As much as I love Toby, the Luidaeg probably gives her a run for her money. I know you have given us more and more glimpses into the sea witch’s past, but how much of her back story have you crafted and how much will we get to see? Are there any particular characters either mythical or historical, you’ve based her off of?
“The Luidaeg is based off a water demon from old Scottish folklore, and the sea witch from Anderson’s Little Mermaid, and herself. I know her entire story. I love her very much. She’s very sad.”
You’ve brought in as many different kinds of magic as you have races, but Toby’s blood magic is still very unique and deeply original. How did you come up with the idea of blood containing memories? And was it tricky to write it as something positive given the long literary history of blood drinking being negative?
“It was tricky to keep people from dismissing her as ‘fae goes vamp,’ at least at first, but once we got past that, it was pretty easy. Blood as a repository for the self has a long history in folklore, and I wanted to explore those aspects of sympathetic magic.”
You also use shape-shifting quite differently. While the main shifters, Tybalt and Conner, clearly have superhuman advantages in their human form, their animal forms seem to diminish them instead of enhancing their powers. Obviously, being able to shift is incredibly useful in and of itself, but why did you choose to go this route instead of the more typical giant wolf or tiger?
“Fae are all about hiding, blending in, becoming part of the world around them. A tiger in San Francisco would stand out a lot!”
Honestly, I could probably ask pages and pages of questions about fetches, knowes, Firstborn, Saltmist, and much, much more. Is there any chance of a “world of Toby” book? I’m sure there’s a lot you don’t want to give away yet, but I’m also sure you have a great deal of information about this world that might not make it into one of the actual novels.
“Not until the series is over. There’s a lot that people haven’t figured out yet, and I wouldn’t want to spoil any of the surprises.”
Looking specifically at Chimes at Midnight, you brought in drugs and drug addiction. How did you go about recreating a significant real world issue for use in faerie?
“I actually started from a poem: Christina Rossi’s ‘Goblin Fruit.’ The effects of fae food and drink on humans are in a lot of the folklore. It gave me a very good starting point, and then I just put a Toby twist on things.”
While I’d never describe your books as being a soap box, you do focus quite a bit on how the actions of the privilege pure-blood fae affect both the half-blood changelings and the humans. There’s never been a sense of open rebellion against the entire system from Toby. However, her demands that the fae see and acknowledge what’s happening tend to start an avalanche. Is there a deliberate message here, or is it just part of the story?
“A little bit of both. Toby is the product of a feudal society: for her, open rebellion is unthinkable, because this is just the way things are. I, however, do not like unexamined social structures, so I keep pushing her into places where things will have to be questioned.”
We had confirmation in this book of a several popular fan theories. Has it been fun for you to read/listen to all the speculation, knowing how thrilled everyone would be someday?
“Yes and no. Some fan theories are going to be wrong, after all, and I always feel bad about that. But I do enjoy the reactions when something comes into the light.”
There was a character who rather noticeably disappeared part way through this book and didn’t show back up. (And yes, I’m trying really hard to avoid spoilers.) I’m assuming there will be fallout from that?
“Isn’t there always?”
I’m going to be honest and say that I’ve always assumed the power struggle and climax in this book was what the series was working towards. And yet this time we’ve received even more ominous pronouncements along the lines of “I have plans for you, October Daye.” Other than making our hair stand on end, are these actually pointing toward a specific final event, or are they referencing something that will happen along the way?
“Oh, I know where I’m going. Next up is The Winter Long. That’s when everything changes.”
Do you have a definite number of books in mind for the October Daye series or is that still to be determined?
“No, because things shift. In outlines, Late Eclipses and One Salt Sea were two halves of the same book. Obviously, that didn’t happen. So I’ll get there when I get there.”
“Mira Grant—my evil twin—has a new book coming out in October, Parasite. The third book in my InCryptid series, Half-Off Ragnarok, drops in March, and then the collected adventures of Rose Marshall, Sparrow Hill Road, will be out in May. You should totally buy them all and help me feed my cats.”
And my new random question for everyone: what color lightsaber would you have?
Thanks Seanan! Check out Seanan and her other books on her website. And don’t forget to enter the giveaway below!
Giveaway: One copy of Seanan McGuire’s ‘Chimes at Midnight’ .
Our giveaway is simple. Unfortunately, it’s open to residents of North America only (sorry, international fans!). If you’re under 18, please make sure to get your parents’ permission to enter the giveaway. You can earn a total of six entries in the giveaway:
- ONE entry for simply entering the giveaway
- TWO entries for following us on Twitter
- TWO entries for “liking” us on Facebook
- ONE entry for talking about the giveaway on Twitter
The giveaway will stay open until Saturday, September 14th at 12:01 am. The winner will automatically be chosen at random via Rafflecopter. The first name of each winner will be announced on this post and winners will be contacted by a member of our staff to begin the process of shipping out your prize.