Interview with Sarah Monette

July 2, 2013

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Maggie Slater’s fiction has appeared in Leading Edge Magazine, Zombies: More Recent Dead from Prime Books, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, among other venues. When not chasing after her rambunctious toddler, she enjoys Haruki Murakami novels, sampling craft beer, and hoarding cheap notebooks. For more information about her and her current projects, visit her blog at

An expert in 17th century literature and a dedicated book collector, Sarah Monette is also the author of several dozen fantasy and horror short stories, many of which have appeared in Year’s Best anthologies, The Doctrine of Labyrinths fantasy series (beginning with Mélusine), two fiction collections, and the Iskryne World series (beginning with A Companion to Wolves), co–authored with Elizabeth Bear. Her work has appeared in many print and online magazines, such as Clarkesworld Magazine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Fantasy Magazine, and Strange Horizons. Her short story, “Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland,” garnered the 2003 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Short Fiction.

This issue of Apex Magazine brings you one of her beloved Kyle Murchinson Booth series stories, “To Die For Moonlight.” In this interview, we discuss mystery authors, short stories verses novels, editing ten–year–old projects, half–goblins, and — of course — Mr. Booth himself. To learn more about Sarah Monette and her fiction, visit her website at:

ABOUT “To Die for Moonlight”:

APEX MAGAZINE: Kyle Murchinson Booth is a recurring character for you and has appeared in many of your short stories (I’m thinking particularly of the stories in your short fiction collection The Bone Key). What was the initial spark that brought Booth into existence? What was the first Booth story?

SARAH MONETTE: Booth emerges pretty directly from an H. P. Lovecraft story, “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” with a sensitive, somewhat weak–willed narrator and his brilliant, overbearing friend. The first Booth story, “Bringing Helena Back,” was a reworking of that dynamic, and by the time I was done with the story, Booth had endeared himself to me.

AM: Booth is an intellectual man, who is not so much physically strong as he is thoughtful and observant. I know you’ve referenced HP Lovecraft as one of your influences over the years, and I noticed a kinship between Booth’s character and the kind of intelligent, sensitive lead men who often appear in Lovecraft’s work. Do you find yourself drawn to this particular kind of character? If not, are there other kinds of characters you find yourself repeatedly interested in writing about?

SM: I like writing about intelligent characters. My friend Elizabeth Bear has also observed that I frequently write about outsiders and misfits. So, yes.

AM: The story itself is on the longer end for a short story (about 8.5k), and yet it reads so smoothly and so quickly it’s hard to imagine it’s that long. How do you approach the pacing for a story like this? Is it something that comes about naturally, or is it something you have to work consciously to orchestrate?

SM: “To Die for Moonlight” was an exercise in trying to get to the first line. It was actually quite difficult to orchestrate, simply because there was so much information to be packed in.

AM: What do you mean by “an exercise in trying to get to the first line”?

SM: I had the first line, “I cut off her head before I buried her,” for years before I could figure out the story that went around it. Even when I knew some of the elements of it, putting the pieces of the story together was very difficult.

AM: At its heart, “To Die for Moonlight” is a mystery story. You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you have a fondness for crime and mystery novels. Who would you consider your favorite mystery novelist, and why?

SM: My favorite mystery novelist is definitely Dorothy Sayers, for her ability to write mysteries that are also novels, without skimping on either side. I also love — aside from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who almost goes without saying — Emma Lathen, Colin Watson, Edmund Crispin, Sarah Caudwell, and Rex Stout.

About Writing in General:

AM: You began your career in writing novels, but you’ve also published — since then — a large number of very successful short stories. What made you decide to try your hand at short stories? What was the hardest transition for you working from novels to short stories?

SM: I actually started publishing short stories before I sold my first novel, and I’d been trying to write short stories all along, just as I was trying to write novels. Novels are an endurance test, but they give you a lot more room to make mistakes.

AM: Ah, my mistake! For some reason I thought your novel came out first. Since you began with short fiction, what is your experience of the old publishing adage that starting with short fiction helps establish your career for novels? Did you find that to be true in your case?

SM: Nope. I think the two are quite different — they complement each other nicely, since short fiction publishing moves so much more quickly than book publishing. In that sense, it is useful, because it’s good practice for getting rejection letters and picking yourself up off the floor and taking another swing. But short stories aren’t just little novels and writing good short stories doesn’t mean a thing in the world about whether you’ll write good novels (and vice versa).

AM: What does a typical writing day for you look like? Do you write every day, or more sporadically? Do you utilize any kind of daily goal system or do you find working more freely works better for you? Have you found there are any particular ways of going about writing a story, which simply do NOT work for you?

SM: I don’t have a typical writing day anymore. Between a full–time job and a number of health problems, some days I just can’t write. I do try to write frequently; in general, I’m always working on something, even if it’s just a sentence or two here and there. I used to know what worked for me and what didn’t, but I’m not sure of any of that any longer. I have discovered, the hard way, that writing to quotas — a certain number of words or a certain number of pages — does not work for me. It’s too easy for me to focus on the quantitative goal instead of remembering that it’s the qualitative goals that matter.

AM: After you’ve completed the first draft of a story, how do you approach editing it? Are there any traps you find you fall into regularly in that first draft that often need fixing during the editing process?

SM: My first drafts are always discovery drafts, so once I’ve figured out what I’m doing, I have to go back and make it look like that’s what I meant to do all along. And take out three–quarters of the adjectives. I have to be careful to pay attention when I’m revising and editing because it’s very easy for me to think with my genre conventions, where the events of the story unfold according to what you’d expect to happen, instead of according to what the characters would really do or feel or say. And of course, once there’s a complete draft, it’s horribly easy to treat it as something you can’t rip apart.

AM: You’ve written a couple of books and a few short stories in collaboration with author Elizabeth Bear. How do you approach working on a collaboration project? What would you say is the greatest strength of collaborating with another author on a work of fiction? The greatest challenge?

SM: We approach collaboration a little bit like a game of tennis. One of us starts and writes until she gets bored or stuck or feels like she should give the other person a turn, and then hands it off, whereupon the other person writes until she gets bored or stuck. We’ve written three novels and at least four short stories that way. Collaboration for us is lovely because we shore up each other’s weaknesses (and prune back each other’s sentences). We do get at cross–purposes occasionally, because our writing processes individually are quite different from each other’s. But we mesh more smoothly than seems at all reasonable.

AM: You began initial work on your first novel, Mélusine, when you were nineteen. How long did the initial draft take for you to compose, and did you find any specific challenges in editing a novel you’d conceived so early in your career?

SM: I wrote the first draft of Mélusine over ten years or so, while also finishing my bachelor’s degree and going to graduate school full–time. The revision process consisted of doing a ground–up, white page rewrite, so “editing” would be a misnomer. It was a long, ugly process (in the course of which it grew from one novel to two) and I profoundly hope I never have to do anything like that again.

AM: You have a new novel coming out shortly called The Goblin Emperor. Could you tell us a little about what it’s about?

SM: The Goblin Emperor is about the youngest, half–goblin son of the elvish emperor. He’s spent his entire life banished from court, and then his father and all his older brothers die in an airship crash and suddenly he’s emperor. And the whole novel just kind of spun itself out from that initial idea.

AM: What was the seed of inspiration for The Goblin Emperor?

SM: You know, I’m not even sure. I know I wanted to write something that had both elves and airships in it, but to the best of my recollection, the story just started, right where it starts now, with the protagonist being woken up because a messenger has come from the court.

AM: From time to time I have to ask this question, if only because I find it fascinating to see what the answer is, but —! If you could be friends with one fictional character, who would it be, and at what venue would you meet?

SM: The White Knight from Through the Looking Glass. And obviously we would meet on a chessboard.

AM: What, if you can say, are you currently working on, and what can we look forward to seeing from you in the upcoming year?

SM: I’m trying to finish a Kyle Murchison Booth novella called Thirdhop Scarp, which I have been working on since approximately the dawn of time.

The Goblin Emperor (under the pen name Katherine Addison) should be out in April 2014.

AM: Thank you so much, Ms. Monette, for sharing “To Die for Moonlight” with us here at Apex, and for granting us this interview!

© Maggie Slater


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