Jayna Bosse's Interview with SF/F/H Author Sarah Gailey
|Photo © Raj Anand 2017
With her constant award nominations and her high ranking in the finals of the Hugo and Campbell awards, author Sarah Gailey is definitely an author to keep an eye on. With pieces such as River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow, it behooves all Sci-Fi readers to keep an eye on her! To get an inside look into her world, we’ve asked Sarah Galy a few questions to get to know her a little bit better and explore what prompted such influential pieces in the literary world.
JB: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
SG: I would tell my younger writing self to listen more than she talks, but to never think that she is required to go along with anything that doesn't feel right in her career.
On a more granular level, I would tell her to read critiques as though they're required edits. While not every critique is valid, looking at one's work as though one absolutely MUST address every critique is a great way to reexamine authorial assumptions, and my work has always become stronger as a result.
JB: Your books are known for having commonalities in their titles regarding their references to the body (marrow, bones, teeth, etc.) is there any reason for this or a thought process behind it?
SG: Oh wow, I hadn't actually noticed that until just now! I think this is because my writing roots are largely in horror. I tend to think that the most viscerally frightening horror is horror that's rooted in the self—in the bodies that we can't escape. I like to remind readers that the emotions they feel when they read my work are feelings that are grounded in their physical, lived experiences, or at the very least that invoke those physical experiences and responses. I want gut-level reactions from my readers, and the titles of my books reflect what I'm trying to pull out of them.
JB: What is your absolute favorite genre to write?
SG: Definitely surrealist horror. I love playing with reader expectations, inverting assumptions and understanding. Welcome To Night Vale is a podcast that does this perfectly and that always brings deep joy to my heart.
JB: As a young writer myself, I know that I definitely would like some tips on how to succeed in this career. Do you have any quick tips or good advice for all the young writers out there?
SG: My biggest advice to any young writer is: read. Read more. Read work by people who don't look like you, who aren't from the places you're from, who don't have the same sexual or gender identity as you. Read things that challenge you. Feed your brain as much and as often as possible.
And when you read something that you love, go and tell the author that you loved their work. Participate in the literary community by enthusiastically supporting other writers, and you can't go wrong.
JB: Does living in Oakland at all contribute to your writing regarding your setting or characters?
SG: Absolutely! Oakland is a city with a richly diverse population, where we talk constantly about change, instability, and injustice. This city is infused with a sense of immediacy and tension and deep-rooted community values that work with that tension. These themes inform everything I write.
JB: Do you ever use people you’ve seen or places you’ve been directly in your literature?
SG: The answer I'd like to give regarding people is 'no,' but that would be dishonest. Of course I'd prefer to be able to say that I construct all of my characters from aether—that they're all composed entirely of my imagination, and that none of them draws from anyone I know. But the truth is that every character I write has at least a little of me and at least a little of the people I know and come across. Importantly, I never insert a person whole into my writing—no one I know should ever be able to identify themselves in my characters. I do often draw on locations in my writing. Everywhere that my characters go is a direct reference to a place I've been and seen—which is how I identify the granular details that I use to define space in my work.
JB: What is your absolute favorite thing to do when you're not writing?
SG: I love sharing meals with friends, and I love boxing. Preferably not at the same time.
JB: Is there anything unique about you that many people don't know about and does it at all contribute to your writing or writing process?
SG: Most people don't know that I am not traditionally educated. I have a college degree, but I got it as a formality well into my professional development—and the program I used to get my degree was an accelerated remote-learning program that allowed me to focus entirely on business administration. As such, I've never taken any literature or composition classes past a high school level. This has an enormous impact on the way I read and the way I write, and on my process—I approach writing a book the same way I've always approached administrative event management, and my outlines often look the same way that my event planning and coordination schedules did. I lean heavily on spreadsheets and deliverables scheduling, and I struggle with many academically traditional approaches to workshopping and composition.
JB: What is your absolute favorite science fiction piece? This can be a novel or a short story, or anything in between!
SG: My current go-to Science Fiction piece is Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed & Common Orbit are two lovely, comfortable books—well-written SF that does not feature many human characters but that is fundamentally human. The prose is gorgeous and the stories are touching and wonderful.