Sci-fi fans undoubtedly need no introduction, but I’m gonna go ahead with one anyway and welcome Sam J. Miller, YA and Adult author, to the site! It’s been quite a past couple of years of awards and category-jumping, and I’m thrilled to have landed him the month of the release of his sophomore YA, Destroy All Monsters. Come get to know Sam J. Miller!
Congrats on the new release! Please tell us a little bit about Destroy All Monsters, and especially about Solomon!
Destroy All Monsters is the story of Ash, a regular teenager in the real world, who is trying to save her best friend Solomon from a mental health crisis. But it’s also the story of Solomon, a gay teenage photographer who lives in a city full of monsters and magic, who is trying to save his best friend Ash – the Refugee Princess – from a conspiracy trying to destroy all magic. As their quests progress, these two worlds begin to collide. There’s some of me in all my characters, but Solomon definitely has a big piece of my heart – a gay Jewish boy trying to make art and make sense of the world around him while struggling with mental illness.
I’m selfishly so happy to have you back in YA; I was afraid we might’ve lost you back to adult SFF for good with Blackfish City, but you manage to juggle both so well! In sci-fi, a genre that always seems to be a bit more nebulous than others when it comes to what age means, how do you decide what’s a YA story and what’s an adult story?
Well thank you for that, but YA will never lose me—as a reader and as a writer I spend a lot of time here! In a lot of ways, I don’t really see a difference. It’s not about “mature content”—I feel like my YA has more sex than my non-YA! And it’s not just about the age of the protagonist, although that’s a big factor. I guess if the story can be told exclusively through the eyes of young people, it’s probably YA. But if I need to get into the heads of lots of people to tell it, and venture into the lives and concerns of folks who are older, it might not be. But who knows! I’m still figuring out the rules of genre, and marketing categories. I wrote a story I thought was science fiction, and they gave me a horror award for it, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Speaking of Blackfish City, it’s been so thrilling watching it sweep up so many accolades! For those who aren’t familiar, can you give us a quick sum-up of the story, and then tell us what it was like to get nominated for eleventy different awards for it??
In a post-climate-change future, where rising sea levels and wars for resources have transformed the globe, floating cities are constructed in the Arctic, where polar melt has opened up the interior for resource exploitation. Qaanaaq is one of those cities, essentially a giant oil rig where a million people live, and one day a woman arrives in town with a polar bear and an orca, on a mission… maybe of bloody revenge. And wackiness ensues! As for the award nominations, that was pretty surprising to me, because – like a lot of artists from marginalized communities – I spent a long time being told that my stories were not universal stories, that they would only resonate within my own community, and if I wanted to get a broad audience I’d need to step outside the ghetto of “gay stuff.” My work has always been extremely queer, and so no matter how many accolades it gets, I never ceased to be shocked that folks respond positively to stories about oversexed irresponsible gay boys, lesbian grandmas, gender nonbinary folks, and so on.
Of course, you came onto my radar with your YA debut, The Art of Starving, which is so marvelous and powerful, I knew immediately you were an author to watch. What made you decide to dip into YA at that point and with that story, and what has reaction to it been like?
I’ve always adored YA, going back to getting totally messed up by The Chocolate War when I was twelve. Just like Disney movies, I never understood why they have this reputation for being juvenile or saccharine—like Disney movies, they’ve always been dark and terrifying and sad. And while I’d written a YA novel already at that point, it was pretty closeted (and not so great)—I thought I’d never be able to publish the dark queer edgy sexy stories I wanted to tell. Luckily I studied under Holly Black and Cassandra Clare at the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Workshop, and they convinced me that folks were really pushing the envelope for queer rep in YA, and that I should do what I want, tell the stories I needed to tell. And I did! And people were into it! And I’m still kinda shocked.
Queer Adult SFF is a spot of ignorance for me, so whenever I have an expert here, I must ask for recs. What are some of your major faves, and who are some authors to watch, in your opinion?
OMG SO MUCH GREAT STUFF!! JY Yang, Carmen Maria Machado, Lara Elena Donnelly, Annalee Newitz, Charlie Jane Anders, Ruthanna Emrys, Ellen Klages, Indra Das, Richard Bowes, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Kai Ashante Wilson… I know I’m leaving out tons of folks and IT IS KILLING ME. We really are living in a beautiful moment where tons of queer SF/F/H is being written—and published!—by tons of incredible diverse writers.
Shifting away from your written work for a minute, you’re one of my favorite people to follow on social media because I feel like I just never know where you’re gonna suddenly pop up with some gorgeous photograph, especially throughout New York. What’s your favorite travel spot and why?
Awwww, thank you! I love to travel, and have lots of favorites—Thailand, India, Iceland, the Dominican Republic. But even here in NYC—a friend of mine told me that I photograph my home city like I’m a visitor here, and I kinda love that—wherever you go, even your own back yard, there’s tons of weird wild shit to capture if you just try to look for it.
Please explain “He got married in a guerrilla wedding in the shadow of a tyrannosaurus skeleton” from your longform bio on your website. Immediately.
Well, gay marriage became legal in New York State in 2011, and my husband and I had been together for almost ten years at that point. We decided to get married, but we wanted to honor our rebel queer heritage with a guerrilla wedding, without permission, that incorporated elements of direct action. I’m a community organizer, after all—organizing protests is what I do. And we both love dinosaurs—A LOT. So on our tenth anniversary, we decided to go to the Natural History Museum here in NYC and get married under the tyrannosaurus rex. I told my mom, wear comfortable shoes, we might need to run from the cops. I also trained one of my friends in how to be a police negotiator in case security rolled up on us, so he could buy us some time to get through the ceremony. Security did roll up, but they thought it was awesome.
What’s your first memory of LGBTQIAP+ rep in media, for better or for worse?
It was definitely for WORSE, even though it’s a musical I adore: A CHORUS LINE, which we saw on Broadway at some point in the 1980s. There’s a gay character in it, and his father kicks him out of the house. I was young, under 10, and it had literally never occurred to me that something could make my father love me less. I remember it made me super sick to my stomach. As it happened, I didn’t need to worry—my father responded with nothing but love and support when I came out to him—but the shame and suffering I’d seen gay characters suffer in A CHORUS LINE and other media did make my coming out so, so much more difficult. Which is why I’m so committed to providing positive representation and emotional validation in my own work, and supporting it in the work of others.
What’s up next for you?
My fourth novel will come out in 2020—it’s called The Blade Between, and it’s not YA—it’s a supernatural thriller, sorta like a House of Cards as told by Stephen King, about folks fighting gentrification in a small town while being manipulated by people they don’t know are ghosts… of whales. Still editing it, and it’s super exciting. So, that, and SHORT STORIES! I love them, and I miss them. Noveling takes up a lot of time.
Sam J. Miller is the Nebula-Award-winning author of The Art of Starving (an NPR best of the year) and Blackfish City (a best book of the year for Vulture, The Washington Post, Barnes & Noble, and more – and a “Must Read” in Entertainment Weekly and O: The Oprah Winfrey Magazine). A recipient of the Shirley Jackson Award and a graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, Sam’s work has been nominated for the World Fantasy, Theodore Sturgeon, John W. Campbell and Locus Awards, and reprinted in dozens of anthologies. A community organizer by day, he lives in New York City.</p>