Interview: Seanan McGuire (by Wendy N. Wagner)

Okay, let’s get the obvious question out of the way first. How many times have you read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?           

You know, I don’t know? But I’ve read so many things in that sub-genre, the “kid finds a magical world and is swept away into wild adventure” sort of thing. Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, Peter and Wendy, all the classics, and the more modern pieces, like Abadazad and Cat Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. It’s this whole thriving slice of literature, and a lot of it really only seems aimed at a specific age. Everyone I know read those stories, and then one day, they just stopped.

I know so many people who had a place that they just knew they could get to if they found the right door. (Mine was a Narnia-Africa cross waiting just behind the back door of our house. Which didn’t have a key.) Did you have such a place, and if so, would you be willing to describe it?           

When I was a kid, we always lived near creeks. Everything else changed, but there were always creeks. I thought that if you could find the right combination of steps, if you could approach the water just so, you’d be able to find a path you’d never seen before, and it would take you to the Autumn Country, where it was always October, and it was always Halloween, and no one ever laughed at your clothes, and since the candy was free, no one was ever hungry. Part of me still believes that the right corn maze can get you there, which is part of why I love my corn mazes so dearly.

I love the idea of the Truth Fairy. What inspired her?           

So the “kids + magical world = adventure” equation was very, very heavily used during the 1980s. Almost every cartoon had it, because it was a way to get the kids into the story. My favorite was My Little Pony and Friends, which had Megan, a blonde farm girl kidnapped by talking horses. And the stakes were real in these cartoons. If a villain got someone, they stayed got. The Truth Fairy, to me, feels like a villain from one of those cartoons. It’s just that the cartoon she appeared in ceased to exist after she caught all the principle characters.

I think this story draws on some of the same material Kij Johnson’s Ponies drew upon. People, especially women, seem to feel like there’s a real sense of loss of self in becoming an adult, and a lot of YA fiction speaks to that. What do you think? Was that a motivation in writing “Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage”?           

I think that for a girl, you do have a certain loss of who you were implicit in modern adulthood. There’s a wonderful song by a band called Butterfly Jones, called “The Systematic Dumbing Down of Terry Constance Jones,” about a girl who realizes as she gets older that none of her dreams matter as much to the world around her as the way she looks. There’s a bit in the middle—”Well, I played my share of baseball, and I beat the boys at pool. / I was smart and silly way before I found out about being cool.” And I think that’s what we lose. We take it away from each other. It’s something I think about a lot.

What is the appeal of parallel worlds stories and/or portal fantasies? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about them? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?

I think the idea that “here is another world, here all the rules are different, here you can potentially be or do or want anything, and it’s okay, it’s normal, no one is going to blame you” is very appealing to most of us, at some point in our lives.  It’s something I circle back to a great deal.

What are some of your favorite examples of parallel worlds or portal fantasies (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

And now Seanan demonstrates that she is a total nerd.  Ahem: Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, was a portal fantasy comic published by DC, in which a young girl discovered that she was, in fact, the princess of a portal world, where she got to ride a winged horse and have adventures, all while being surprisingly well-written.  Seriously.  It was so much fun, and it’s a shame that it’s not currently available.  You can make a strong argument for Fringe as portal science fiction, and it appeals to me in every possible way.  In more recent media, Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland… is just an amazing piece of work, and I wish I’d had it when I was a kid.  So now I give it to kids, instead.

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This interview first appeared alongside the story in Fantasy Magazine.