Once again, I was excited to chat with author Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) about her newest book. This time around we talk Parasite, science, mad science, and the fact that I wasted about three hours online looking for a nonexistent book.
Both your Newsflesh books and now Parasite are grounded in real world science and medicine. How do you go about researching and planning a book like this?
“I read. A lot. And then I chase down the footnotes in the things that I read, looking for the pieces that aren’t in the ‘pop science’ books—which are a great place to start, don’t get me wrong. They’re full of easily marked doors, and on the other side of those doors? Miracles.”
Do you have professional doctors or scientist friends you get to fact check these books, or do you puzzle out all the minutia yourself?
“I fact check constantly with professionals in the field.”
“The Newsflesh books are about zombies, diseases, politics, blogging, family, and how far we are willing to go for the illusion of safety. I’m really proud of them. I actually do recommend them, and not just because I wrote them.”
Right off the bat, I need to know how you came up with the idea of incorporating a children’s book into a medical thriller? It worked magnificently, but it’s an unusual plot device. I started trying to find a copy about three chapters into the book, and Google had nothing…you made it up, didn’t you?
“I did. I did make it up. As for why…there’s a fairy tale quality to Don’t Go Out Alone, and Sal, in many ways, is a fairy tale protagonist. So I wanted that eeriness throughout.”
Even though you started dropping bread crumbs for your readers quite early, you left your protagonist, Sal, in the dark on several large plot elements until the very end. This created an incredible amount of suspense and second guessing to the point I felt like Iago was monologuing in the background…was there ever a point in planning the story you considered tipping your hand earlier?
“No. Once the hand is tipped, it’s not the first book anymore. I tend to see the story in very clear acts, and once that particular plot element was revealed, we were in act two.”
It’s clear from the majority of your writing you really love zombies. And yet, no one even started using the term in slang fashion in this story. Why did you choose not to use that word this time around?
“Because I didn’t want people to start going ‘oh, it’s just another zombie story,’ even though some aspects are very much like that. Also, we don’t really deal with the man on the street much—these are scientists, and they know that this is not the zombie apocalypse. This is something worse.”
So is there a real life person behind Dr. Abbey and Dr. Shanti?
“Both Dr. Shannon Abbey and Dr. Shanti Cale are named after real people. Dr. Cale is more a combination of people—along with my desire to have a bad-ass mad scientist in a wheelchair who can still kill you with her brain—while Dr. Abbey is completely based on a good friend of mine.”
This book like your Newsflesh is fueled by a degree of mad science. Yet you always temper the “oh gee, I just destroyed the world as we know it” with a healthy dose of “even so, my stunt was bloody brilliant.” And I think that a certain degree of that is natural in science. Even at its scariest, it is awe inspiring what we can do. Is this perspective just coming from the nature of your stories or is this a glimpse of you yourself think?
“It’s a glimpse of how I myself think. I adore science, I adore the things it can do, and I’m the kind of girl who sometimes sits in the wreckage blinking and going ‘wow, that was awesome.’”
Aside from the science, you have amazing realistic portrayals of how big businesses are run and how to break into high security facilities. Do you start with real world examples and create these scenarios from there or do these all come from your imagination?
“A little bit of both. I do research here, too.”
This is the first book of a duology? Or will there be a main series and several spin-offs like Newsflesh?
“Newsflesh doesn’t have any spin-offs. There are some novellas, but they’re not spin-off series, they’re not necessary to enjoy the main trilogy. Parasite is the first book, I can’t say for sure whether it’s going to wind up two or three books long, and there are no novellas currently planned.”