Q&A: Will McIntosh

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Q&A: Will McIntosh
Will McIntosh

Will McIntosh is most definitely a writer to watch, a rising star in the science fiction firmament. Last year he was a Nebula Award finalist and Hugo Award winner for best short story. He also took home Asimov’s Science Fiction‘s 2010 Reader’s Award. His upcoming novel, Soft Apocalypse is based on a 2005 short story that was nominated for both the British Science Fiction Association and the British Fantasy Society awards, and his story “Followed” (published in the anthology The Living Dead edited by John Joseph Adams) is currently being produced as a short film. When he’s not writing SF, Will is a psychology professor at Georgia Southern University. He’s also among the many authors to father twins in recent years (there’s something in the water at SFWA meetings). His second novel, Deadland will probably be sold by the time you read this.

LMS: Let’s start with your short story “Bridesicle.” You garnered a Nebula nomination for this story, and it won you your first Hugo award down in Australia this past summer. What are your thoughts on the nomination and award process, and what (if any) impact do you feel the nomination and win have had on your career as a writer.

WM: The possibility that “Bridesicle” might get nominated for an award was so far from my mind that I was honestly stunned when I got the news. I guess no award system is going to be perfect, but I have a lot of respect for both the Nebula and Hugo. If a no-name like me can get nominated, and even win, it sure feels like it’s not just about who you know, and voters don’t simply vote for the names they recognize.

The two nominations, then winning the Hugo, has definitely had an impact. The process feels a little easier now, more like moving downhill than before. The real impact, though, has been internal. It’s still hard for me to believe it happened, and I think those months culminating in my trip to Australia for the Hugo Awards will always remain one of the most important, happiest moments of my life. I’ve always loved science fiction, and so many past Hugo winners are my heroes. I remember as a boy reading that big, thick anthology, The Hugo Winners, edited by Isaac Asimov, and I wonder what that boy would think if he knew one day he would be nominated for a Hugo, let alone win one. I wish I could go back in time and totally blow his mind.

LMS: Speaking as one psychologist-turned-SF author to another, how much do you draw from your academic training in your fiction? Are there particular themes or topics that you return to time and again? Are you working out your frustrations with your students through your characters? How many school administrators have you involuntarily Tuckerized as part of the tenure process?

WM: In some ways I think my fiction is an attempt to get as far away from my academic training as possible! I’m sure you remember what it’s like to write research articles for academic journals. It’s boring, and terribly restrictive. There are so many rules. You can’t make anything up, and you have to write a freaking reference section at the end! I started writing fiction on a total whim, ten years into my academic career, and it was so freeing to write whatever the hell I wanted, without references, with no constraint except that I should make it entertaining so other people might enjoy it. I was hooked.

It’s true, though–some of my characters are based on students and colleagues, and some of those characters are not very likeable. Others are extremely likeable, though. One of the main characters in Soft Apocalypse — Ange — is closely based on a former grad student. I got her permission before plunking her into a hellish landscape and making her suffer terribly.

LMS: Your first novel, Soft Apocalypse, is coming out this spring from Night Shade Books, one of the bigger small presses out there, and the people who had the great good sense to publish Paulo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. It’s no secret that Night Shade has been going through some difficulties recently, avoiding calls from some of their authors, canceling several long advertised titles, and refocusing their energies to produce trade paperbacks instead of hardbound editions. Without putting you on the spot, can you talk a bit about your feelings being associated with such a tumultuous press?

WM: I’ve had nothing but good experiences with Night Shade. I’m aware of the problems they’ve had in the past, so before I signed with them I talked with two friends who have multiple books published with Night Shade, and both had nothing but good things to say. My agent Seth Fishman has a good working relationship with them, and he felt confident that they would work hard to produce an attractive book and make sure people heard about it. So far that’s what’s happened. I can’t really speak to other people’s experiences, but Night Shade has done right by me, and I’m awfully grateful to them for giving me this opportunity. What’s been especially cool is that I signed a contract in October, and they’re on track to release Soft Apocalypse on April 19! I mean, damn, that’s quick. And nothing’s official, but (ahem) this may not be my last book with Night Shade.

LMS: Looking at the blurb for your forthcoming novel, I note the following line: “when Dada terrorists prowl the streets planting bombs in dogs, and voracious strains of bamboo choke” and naturally I think to myself, “hey, my first novel had “eco-terrorist, and buffalo dogs, and a mutant strain of kudzu… And then I think… “I spent ten years as a psychology professor, and Will’s a psych prof…” and then “I was nominated for the Hugo, and Will won the Hugo…” Dude, what’s going on here? Am I being paranoid, or are you trying to copy (and outdo) me at every turn? Huh? Huh?

WM: I have your entire house bugged. I’m hard at work mastering Romulan and I own all of the same shirts as you, except I own six of each.

Either that, or perhaps great minds think alike. Yeah, let’s go with that one.

= = = = =

And now that Will has all but agreed to allow me to share his Hugo Award two months out of every year, it’s time for the commercial: These Q&A posts with authors are a shameless attempt to introduce you to writers you might yet have encountered with the express intention of luring you to buy their books. To make it even easier, click on the pretty picture below and it will take you to an order page. Thanks!

Soft Apocalypse The Living Dead


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