Happy March! I am so thrilled to have Sarah Gailey on the site today, because in case you have noticed, they’ve been utterly killing it and have not one but two new books out already in 2020. Gailey’s writing some of the best, queerest, most interesting, and straight-up weirdest stuff out there right now, and if you’re not already familiar, there’s never been a better time to fix that!
It’s been five seconds into 2020 and you are already having A Year, with publications back to back in February and March. How do you handle having two new books out in two different categories, and what important commonalities are there between Upright Women Wanted and When We Were Magic?
This year has already been completely bananas. It’s been tricky to juggle having two new books out so close together! Fortunately, both books have a similar heart; they’re about finding people who love you for who you are, and who want to support you in growing into the person you’ll become. Those parallels have made it easy to transition from promoting Upright Women Wanted to promoting When We Were Magic (even if that turn happens to be taking place on a dime).
Upright Women Wanted another foray into the queer wild west for you, following your American Hippo duo. What is it about that setting that calls to you, and how did you find doing it as a near-future this time around vs. as an alternate history?
I really love a Wild West setting because the characters we identify most with in that setting tend to be outlaws and outcasts who are fighting to survive in a world that wasn’t built for them. As a queer, nonbinary, and disabled person, that’s a feeling that hits pretty close to home for me. In writing Upright Women Wanted, I felt that it was important to connect that feeling to the fear so many of us have today — that the future doesn’t have a place for us in it. I wanted to answer the question: In a near-future wild-west, how do we find ways to survive? And how might queer people find joy in that survival?
After several years of being rather prolific in adult, When We Were Magic is your first YA. What inspired you to jump categories, and how did you find writing for teens for your first time?
I’ve always loved reading YA, but for a long time, I was intimidated to make an attempt at writing it. The field is populated with so many brilliant, incredible authors. The thing that really pushed me into trying my hand at wriiting for teens was, as is so often the case, my literary agent. He asked me if I really, truly believed that I had nothing to say to all the teen readers who might be able to see themselves in my work. I realized that my trepidation was nothing compared to the opportunity I had to reach out to young women, young queer people, and teen readers who are trying to figure out where they fit in a world that feels simultaneously too big and too small.
Writing for teens was a complete delight. I tapped into emotions that I rarely have the courage to explore in my adult work, and I wrote with a hopeful future in mind. I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to do it again!
One thing I think is so cool about your body of work is how you seem to thrive in all different formats – short story, novella, novel… How do you make the call about the right format for each of your pieces, and are there any you wish you could expand?
For the most part, my stories tell me what length they want to be. As I explore the concept of a story, I start to see the places that want to expand — maybe the worldbuilding needs more space, or the relationships need more time to truly flourish. While some stories want to be concise and direct, other stories want to stretch out and take up a lot of room. Really, all I do is listen.
I would really love to expand my recent Vice short story, DRONES TO PLOUGHSHARES. It’s the story of an agricultural resistance community offering reform opportunities and friendship to government surveillance drones, and I would love to take the time and wordcount to explore how the world they inhabit came to be.
You are no stranger to awards, from the Hugo for Best Fan Writer to the Locus for Best Novella. How do you celebrate yourself, and what is it about your work that you most hear clicks with your readers?
I’m still trying to learn how to celebrate myself! Usually, my instinct is to just work harder, which of course isn’t sustainable. These days, I like to cook something lovely for my friends and sit down with a glass of wine, so we can toast together — I find that the best celebrations are truly celebrations of community, and that’s where I find the most joy.
My readers seem to click a lot with the uncertainty I try to explore in my work. I love writing about people who don’t have all the answers, who aren’t sure about themselves or the world around them, and who can really only find certainty in community and vulnerability. My readers really seem to find themselves in those spaces.
There’s so much bravery in your work, and it’s clear that you put a lot of yourself on the page. Is it something you find easier to do with your fiction or your nonfiction, and why?
I have a much easier time with this in my fiction. In nonfiction, I can’t find anywhere to hide — I have to talk about myself directly, and the people in my life, some of whom are very aware of the moments when they’re the ones I’m talking about. In my fiction, I can tuck pieces of myself and my life into various characters, and although some people might recognize me, not everyone will. I find a lot of comfort in that, and as a result, I’m actually much more vulnerable in my fiction writing than I am in my nonfiction.
Your books are great and all but we need to take a minute to talk about your cooking. Where on earth did you get all that extra talent and what’s the best thing you’ve ever made?
Oh my goodness, I love cooking so much!! It’s truly become an enormous outlet for me over the past year or so, especially now that I’m cooking for a family instead of just for myself. Part of that outlet is in low-stakes risk-taking — I can try out totally bizarre things in my cooking, and if they go wrong, it’s not a big deal because there’s always a pizza in the freezer. But when things go right, I always feel like a golden god. The best thing I’ve ever cooked is, I think, a lasagna. I spent a month or so workshopping it, trying to find everything I could do differently about every aspect of a lasagna, and when I made the final version, it came out completely transcendent. I wrote up a breakdown of everything I did, including a final recipe for a ten-minute version of lasagna that’s perfect for weeknight dinners — but the fancy version of lasagna was definitely the best thing I’ve ever made.
What’s your first recollection of LGBTQIAP+ representation in the media, for better or for worse?
Oof, this is a tough one. If I’m going with implicit representation, it’s definitely XENA, WARRIOR PRINCESS, which is a show I was completely obsessed with as a kid (although at the time I couldn’t have told you why… I just really identified with Xena and Gabrielle, and wanted to be them, and wanted to kiss them, and wanted to be their best friend?? Who can say what it all meant). My first encounter with explicit queer representation on the screen was probably Willow and Tara in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER — a story arc that had a huge impact on how much I was unwilling to embrace my own queer identity for so long.
I assume that your answer to “Are you a coward or are you a librarian?” is the latter, so please, help us find some books! For people who love your work, what queer titles should they go to next?
It feels obvious to say so, but please read everything that Mark Oshiro ever writes. Anger Is a Gift is a magnificent book, and their upcoming projects will blow you away. I also can’t recommend Lauren Shippen highly enough — The Infinite Noise is a beautiful book about queer love and mental illness, and I loved it with my whole heart. Finally, Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s upcoming YA novel, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, is a stunning exploration of queer love, gender, magic, and the cost of violence. Preorder it! Go!!
What’s up next for you?
I’ll be spending the rest of 2020 promoting When We Were Magic and Upright Women Wanted, my recent antifascist queer western novella! After that, I get to start gearing up for early 2021, when my next adult novel will come out from Tor Books. The Echo Wife is a science fiction novel about divorce, identity, duality, and cloning. It follows the story of a scientist whose husband steals her technology in order to clone himself a better version of her. The consequences are dire and far-reaching, and force her to examine everything about herself in a whole new light.
Hugo Award Winner and Bestselling author Sarah Gailey is an internationally published writer of fiction and nonfiction. Their nonfiction has been published by Mashable and the Boston Globe, and they won a Hugo award for Best Fan Writer. Their most recent fiction credits include Vice and The Atlantic. Their debut novella, River of Teeth, was a 2018 Hugo and Nebula award finalist. Their bestselling adult novel debut, Magic For Liars, was published in 2019; their latest novella, Upright Women Wanted, was published in February 2020. Their Young Adult novel debut, When We Were Magic, came out in March 2020. You can find links to their work at http://www.sarahgailey.com; find them on social media @gaileyfrey.