Mini Interview with Maria Dahvana Headley!
Mini-Interview by Deborah Stanish
1. Last year in Apex Magazine you talked about a “hoarded file of secrets”, we’re not going to ask you to share what’s in the file but can you tell us some of the things that have come out of that file and where you found them?
Sure! The story The Psammophile, which I published last year in Unlikely Story: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology – is full of things from that secret file. It’s a riff on Thomas Browne’s Musaem Clausum, itself a thing from the secret file, though that’s a little more well known. The apocryphal notion of sweetening tea with a scorpion came from an old natural history book that got things quite wrong. A variety of other things in that story were presents for the secret file from my main collaborator, and I wrote the story itself as a present for him. The story The Krakatoan which I published in the anthology The Lowest Heaven and at Nightmare Magazine, has a little section about the eruption of Krakatoa, and the way that rafts made of pumice and containing skeletons drifted up on beaches for years after. That’s a fact I read in some old book about volcanoes, and that came from the secret file. It inspired the story, in many ways. The Tallest Doll in New York City, a Damon Runyon Valentine’s Day riff I published at Tor.com a few months ago was inspired by something from the secret file, The Cloud Club, a private men’s club which used to be on the 66-68th floors of the Chrysler Building. That came from an article I read years ago about the demise of the club – someone went to visit it and took a lot of photos of the broken-down bizarre glory up there. It was only a few steps from that to me making up a love story between the Chrysler and the Empire State Building seen from the windows of the Cloud Club.
2. There has been a considerable amount of discussion in the media about adults reading YA novels – both positive and negative. As the writer of a soon-to-be released young adult novel what attracted you to write YA and why do you think so many adults are reading this genre?
Because it is awesome? I had a pretty wonderful time writing MAGONIA, which will be out in June, 2015 – and it’s YA mainly because it has a protagonist who is 16. So far, almost all of its readers have been adults, actually. I love the old YA classics, and this story was me playing with some of those notions – that idea of transiting to a completely different world, one that parallels our own – in Peter Pan, Wendy and her brothers fly out the window to Neverland, and in Alice in Wonderland, Alice drops through the rabbithole. So, this is a riff on that tradition of worlds so close to one another that they touch. In Magonia there is a sky kingdom full of ships, all above our heads, there all the time, and we just don’t see them from Earth. I think we all grew up with a hope that that kind of thing might be possible, and so it makes perfect sense to me that adults as well as teenagers would enjoy reading stories in that vein.
3. How do you use your work to challenge yourself or your readers?
One of the most frequent google searches arriving at my blog is “Maria Dahvana Headley story what I don’t understand help” – so it seems I’m challenging readers more than I think I do! Sometimes my stories – The Krakatoan comes to mind – have subtleties in terms of what actually occurs, plot wise. Other times – The Traditional – our heroes dive down the throats of giant world-destroying worms. Both things are fun to write – but I think my readers are sometimes asked to learn a new stylistic vocabulary with each one. I challenge myself by writing in a lot of different genre traditions, sometimes all at once. In Such & Such Said to So & So, which was published in Glitter & Mayhem and edited by Lynne, Michael & John Klima, for example, I got to play in the noir tradition, with a cop, a dame, a few femme fatales in cocktail form, and a cat at the door of a nightclub, who actually happened to be a real cat. It was a total genre mashup – wild fantasy combined with mid-century style cop noir. I had unspeakable amounts of fun writing it.
4. What is the “uncanniest” thing that has ever happened to you?
Someday I’ll do an anthology of real ghost stories told by speculative fiction writers. Uncanny things happen to me often actually, but there are a couple of ghost moments in my past. A long time ago, when I was very small, my entire family had just moved into our house far out in rural Idaho. We didn’t have bedrooms yet. We were all sleeping in one of the gymnasiums – the house was a former schoolhouse, long since abandoned, and it had two asbestos tile & cinderblock gymnasiums, as well as drinking fountains and shower stalls. Not in a glam way. In a condemned 1930’s-1950’s ghost building way. In the middle of the night, my parents sat bolt upright, because they heard and felt a threshing machine moving over and around us, all over the land. They were certain that something was landing on us, but when they looked out, nothing. So, a ghost thresher, or an alien ship? No one was ever sure.