Three days into the annual World Science Fiction Convention, at 9:30 on Sunday morning, when most attendees are drooping with exhaustion, Seanan McGuire is almost unforgivably perky. She speaks in full paragraphs, laughs frequently and exuberantly, and shows no sign of nervousness even though the Hugo Awards ceremony is less than 12 hours away.
McGuire is a finalist in four categories—the first woman to achieve this distinction in a single year. At the ceremony, she says, she will be decked out in a bouffant sparkly gown. For brunch, though, it’s a Perry the Platypus T-shirt (a character from the children’s television show Phineas and Ferb, which McGuire calls one of the great unheralded science fiction works of our time) and a necklace with a silver shotgun pendant. Cartoons and weaponry don’t usually go together, but for McGuire, cognitive dissonance is a way of life. At UC-Berkeley she double-majored in folklore/mythology and herpetology. “That was not a major that they had ever dealt with before,” she says cheerfully.
Folklore and mythology clearly influence McGuire’s work under her own name: urban fantasy novels—the October Daye series, beginning with Rosemary and Rue in 2009, and the Incryptid series, launched this year with Discount Armageddon—and music albums, going back to 2006’s Pretty Little Dead Girl and covering the entire spectrum of filk, the folk music of the speculative fiction fan community. The herpetology and a general interest in biology and unusual ailments are more relevant to McGuire’s work under the pen name Mira Grant. Beginning with the breakout success Feed in 2010 and continuing through this year’s Blackout and the limited-edition collection When Will You Rise, they have at various times been filed under science fiction, horror, and suspense. Some of her October Daye novels have been bestsellers, but her thrillers are the ones that get award nominations.
“A lot of people have read the Mira Grant books who are not urban fantasy readers,” she says, “and they would never have picked up a book with an urban fantasist’s name on the cover, but then they go on to read my urban fantasy and like it.” Given that Feed and its sequels deal with a zombie apocalypse sparked by the unfortunate interaction of cures for cancer and the common cold, they should probably be thought of not so much as gateway drugs but as vectors.
“I grew up in an apartment that would have made a trailer look really decadent and nice,” McGuire says. “Pretty much the only dependable thing I had was books.” Now McGuire is a devoted advocate for childhood access to books, especially print books. E-readers can be broken, stolen, or sold to fund necessities like food and medication, but print books are sturdy and cheap, especially on the secondhand market. “We’re geeks,” she says, “and geeks get excited about the shiny new toy, and I’m worried that we’re going to forget about the people who don’t have access to those toys.”
She’s also passionate about community and collaboration, filling her acknowledgments pages with lists of names and crediting her early fan fiction “beta readers” for teaching her how to be edited. Her album Wicked Girls, which celebrates self-rescuing fairy tale heroines and features many of the top performers in the filk scene, is one of her Hugo-nominated works this year—in the catch-all Best Related Work category because there is no Hugo for music—and the one McGuire most hopes will win, precisely because it’s not a solo effort. “That isn’t my Hugo,” she explains. “It’s the filk community’s Hugo for having gone from being six people sitting on a bed in a hotel room to having our own conventions and this amazing worldwide musical style.”
At the ceremony, Wicked Girls and the Mira Grant works Deadline (novel) and Countdown (novella) lose out—but the SF Squeecast, a podcast on which McGuire and others celebrate works they love, wins the inaugural Best Fancast award. Onstage, looking stunned, she clutches the coveted rocket ship statuette and exclaims, “Y’all gave me a Hugo for never shutting up!” It’s a fitting tribute to an author, musician, and fan who has so many very different things to say.