I was six when I realized that I wanted to be a writer. Prior to that, I thought of books as something that just sort of “happened,” rather like the lunchbox trees in some of Baum’s Oz books. I figured, in my uninformed, faintly illogical way, that the authors were actually the people who’d harvested the books off whatever weird sort of book-bush they originally sprouted from. (I never claimed to be a small child who specialized in making SENSE.) Once I understood that no, books were made-up stories written by actual people, I knew it was the job for me.
It took a while, but I managed–through hard work, hard-headedness, and an ongoing lack of concern for doing things which make sense–to become a writer, and then, eventually, a published writer. Which led to the next step in my inevitable abandonment of logic: becoming TWO published writers.
As Seanan McGuire, I write urban fantasy heavily informed by folklore, fairy tales, and whatever weird things have happened to catch my interest this week. My primary series is about a half-fae knight errant in the San Francisco Bay Area, whose rallying cry is “I’m not even supposed to BE here today.” I write stories about the Fighting Pumpkins cheer squad, whose orange and green uniforms conceal an unfortunate tendency to save the planet (and occasionally die trying). I write the “Velveteen vs” superhero stories, where a bunny-eared heroine fights evil using psychically animated toys. I am, in short, a gleefully silly person, even if a lot of my stuff is deadly serious. That’s a lot of what attracts me to the things I write about; I love the contrast between “cheerleaders in garish uniforms” or “unwilling superheroine in a four-color universe” and “absolutely dire situation.”
Of course, in the middle of all this gleeful carnage, I took a year and wrote a six-hundred-page political science fiction thriller with zombies in it. FEED has a sense of humor–I don’t think I’m capable of writing without a sense of humor–but it’s not silly. It’s not brightly colored.
It’s not even tongue-in-cheek most of the time. I love it, and consider it one of the best things I’ve ever written, but that doesn’t make it fit in with the majority of my work. So what’s a cheery blonde Halloweentown girl to do?
Become somebody else, of course.
My agent and I knew from the day we started shopping the Newsflesh trilogy that they would probably need to be published under an open pseudonym.
There are a lot of reasons for that. The easiest to spot is “avoidance of over-saturating the market”–after all, as a relatively new author, it’s probably best if I not compete with myself. Oddly, this isn’t the biggest reason, just the first.
Genre separation is a much larger part of why I was happy to agree to writing under a pseudonym. The Toby Daye books are fairy tale noir.
They’re dark, they’re gritty, and they’re occasionally brutal…but I would still hand them to a savvy teenager without fear that their parents would beat me to death with a baseball bat later. You could adapt the Toby books into PG-13 movies without gutting them. I don’t cringe when I see high school students discussing them on my forums. FEED, on the other hand, is distopian political science fiction with zombies. It has a high body count. There’s gore, there’s sex, there’s bad language, and I so don’t want you to buy it for your niece who loved Toby on the basis of my name alone. Putting a different author’s name on the cover is a screaming neon sign that maybe the contents are also going to be different.
So I went into things knowing I’d need a pseudonym, and even supporting the idea. After the trilogy sold to Orbit, they confirmed that I was going to need to become my own evil twin, and Mira Grant was born. “Mira”
has a sharper writing style, a more morbid turn of mind, and a much darker website. Mine is orange and green, hers is black and red. “Mira” talks about horror movies more, and about cats less. Because it’s an open pseudonym, I don’t have to work to keep my identities separate, for which I am very, very grateful, as I think my head would probably explode.
Things that are frustrating about being two people: Needing to convince people that I am, in fact, both Mira and Seanan. Needing to remember to answer to both names in public. Needing to remember what I’m signing while also trying to remember how to spell the name of the person I’m signing to, because otherwise, you get some real weird signatures. (I use my doodles to differentiate, a lot of the time; Seanan draws pumpkins, Mira draws chainsaws.) Needing to maintain and update two websites.
Needing to pack two wardrobes for conventions.
Things that are fantastic about being two people: I have this amazing degree of genre freedom, because I don’t have to be locked into “the kind of books that so-and-so writes.” Seanan writes urban fantasy and Mira writes science fiction and nobody gets pissed off when there are no zombies in a Toby book or pixies in the Newsflesh book. I have an outlet for those statements that don’t fit my usual cheerfully macabre approach, since when I’m being Mira, I’m allowed to be a lot grimmer (and vice-versa–I’d go nuts if I had to be Mira all the time, and never got to talk about my collection of My Little Ponies).
It’s weird when people assume my real name is the pseudonym, or somehow miss the memo that I’m actually two people, but it’s also a fantastic, freeing experience, and I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunity to do it. I am the monster under my own bed. I think that’s pretty cool.
Seanan McGuire was born and raised in Northern California, where she has made a lifelong study of fairy tales, reptiles, and horror movies. This combination explains a lot. Her first book, ROSEMARY AND RUE, was published in 2009, beginning the October Daye series of urban fantasies.
In 2010, she became her own evil twin, Mira Grant, whose first book, FEED, made the US National Public Radio’s list of the Top 100 Killer Thrillers of all time. Seanan currently lives in a rickety old farm house with two blue cats, too many books, and a reasonably large number of spiders.
She’s been nominated for the 2010 Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and is still a little gobsmacked by the last two years.