Q&A with Megan Lindholm

Long-time Asimov’s reader and writer Megan Lindholm returns to our pages with “Giving Up the Ghost” [in our July/August issue, on sale now!], reviving the character of Celtsie from a previous story. Meghan talked with us about ghost dogs, her career history, the importance of ergonomics, and what she’s up to (or avoiding) on the web.

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

ML: I have had far more than my share of excellent dogs in my lifetime. Each one has left a mark on my life; each one has left a unique gap that no other companion, human or canine, can fill. They do haunt me. I will swear that Kira still comes and scratches at the door. After all, I’ve seen my granddaughter get up from the table, go and open the door, and then stand there for a moment, puzzled. But if your home must be haunted, the very best sort of ghost one can have is the memory of a loyal friend.

AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?

ML: “Giving Up the Ghost” is part of my Peculiar Tacoma stories. This is Celtsie’s second outing. The first, “Community Service” was bought by an amazing editor (Gardner Dozois), for an anthology called The Book of Magic. There is also a novel about Celtsie, but I am taking a very slow approach to finishing it.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?

ML: I enjoy titles that tell a bit about the story without being a spoiler, but also feature a play on words.

AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this story?

ML: For many years (over 40, perhaps) I’ve subscribed to Asimov’s. And over those years, I’ve sold a handful of stories here. Asimov’s and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction are my touchstone publications for short stories. They are always my first choices when I am marketing a story.

AE: What is your history with Asimovs?

ML: My best thing? In 1989 two of my stories published in Asimov’s were on the finalist ballot for a Nebula. Neither won. But for those two same stories, the READERS of Asimov’s gave me the Reader Award for “A Touch of Lavender,” and “Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man” was a finalist. And those awards, given to me by actual readers, meant and still mean a great deal to me. Framed on my office wall!

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

ML: When I can’t make a story move forward, it’s almost always because I’ve made a mistake. The writing part of my brain sits in the backseat of my mind, and refuses to help with the forward navigation until I go back. Sometimes it’s just a few paragraphs back; sometimes it’s a chapter. But if I go back and do a quick edit of the previous pages, I almost always find a place where the story zigged when it should have zagged. I fix that, and the writing flows again.

But for those two same stories, the READERS of Asimov’s gave me the Reader Award for “A Touch of Lavender,” and “Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man” was a finalist. And those awards, given to me by actual readers, meant and still mean a great deal to me. Framed on my office wall!

AE: How did you break into writing?

ML: I began by writing for children’s magazines. The very tiny ones at first, like the little story papers for a Sunday School. Then I worked up to Jack and Jill, and Humpty Dumpty (both magazines now long gone, alas) and even Highlights for Children. From there, I ventured into the wonderful world of fanzines. I owe such a debt to amateur publications such as Space and Time, and their editors. My first story to make it into a paperback was called “Bones for Dulath.” I had sent it to Jessica Salmonson for her fanzine, but instead she chose it for an anthology she was doing, AMAZONS! And that anthology went on to win a World Fantasy Award. And Terry Windling at Ace then expressed an interest in the characters, and I sold her Harpy’s Flight, my first novel.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

ML: I am very slowly assembling a novel about Celtsie and Tacoma Pet Boarding. Maybe this will be the year I finish it. And I have about a dozen short stories in various stages of “almost finished and pleased with it.”

AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?

ML: Oh, there are too many good ones! Zelazny’s Amber. Marjipoor. Pern. The Shire. Thank heavens I have all of them boxed up between book covers and can dwell in them any time I want.

AE: What are you reading right now?

ML: I am finally catching up with Sam Hawke. I have her second book, Hollow Empire.

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?

ML: YES. I do. Check your ergonomics. Seriously. I wish I could go back and take better care of my writing body. So for you: Have your desk where you can look out a window and refocus your eyes on infinity every 20 minutes or so. You should be able to look straight at your monitor, not up or down. (Laptops will eventually ruin you!) Hands flat on the keyboard, feet flat on the floor. If you need them, get “computer glasses.” I wear bifocals and kept tipping my head back to look at my monitor. (Do all these things and you will save a bundle by not having to go to physical therapy and pay for pain killers!)

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?

ML: I’ve made and served pizza, and pulled a lot of beers. I’ve delivered the mail, and waited tables at Sambo’s Pancake House. (Yes, for real.) I’ve sold clothing at Sears, and put fresh eggs for sale by the side of the road in front of my little farm. Also raised kids, ducks, chickens, pigs and lots of fruit and vegetables. All grist for the writing mill. Working in a restaurant and office gave me a better ear for dialogue. And one quickly realizes that truth is always stranger than fiction.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

ML: I am developing an aversion to social media, I fear. I open Twitter, read until I’m horrified, and shut it again. I venture back onto Facebook maybe once a week. I do have an Instagram, but it’s mostly pictures of chickens and trees. (All of those under Robin Hobb.) I like reading on Reddit Fantasy, but don’t comment much. I have a Meganlindholm.com website, and of course a Robinhobb.com website, but I’m very lazy about updating them. I do reviews of books that I like on Goodreads. If I don’t like it, I don’t review it. And my favorite places on Goodreads are The Cool Kids Fantasy Club, and Sword and Laser. Both are excellent for intelligent discussion about books. Again, I read a lot more often than I post.

That’s about it. They all vacuum up too much writing time. I think readers can learn far more about a writer by reading their stories than by looking at social media. After all, when you read a story or a book, you are getting what the writer chose to share with the world.

(I know, I didn’t supply URLs. You can find me if you want to.)

Megan Lindholm lives in rural Washington state and has been writing urban fantasy since Wizard of the Pigeons was first published in 1985. After a decade or two of writing as Robin Hobb, Megan returns to contemporary fantasy with stories of Celtsie set in the Wedge district of modern-day Tacoma, Washington. Celtsie and her pet boarding business and peculiar magic have previously appeared in the story “Community Service” in the anthology The Book of Magic, which was edited by Gardner Dozois.

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