Readers See Themselves In The Many Worlds Of Seanan McGuire The prolific fantasy and horror author says that reading stories about people who don't look like us is how we learn empathy; she makes a point of writing characters who reflect different experiences.
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Readers See Themselves In The Many Worlds Of Seanan McGuire

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Readers See Themselves In The Many Worlds Of Seanan McGuire

Readers See Themselves In The Many Worlds Of Seanan McGuire

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KORVA COLEMAN, HOST:

Seanan McGuire published her first book in 2009, and since then, she's written more than two dozen novels across multiple fictional universes, from urban fairy fantasy to zombie horror. And this year, she achieved her lifelong dream - to write an "X-Men" comic. NPR books editor Petra Mayer caught up with her this weekend at San Diego Comic-Con.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Seanan McGuire knew she was a storyteller when she was 3 years old.

SEANAN MCGUIRE: Because that's when people started saying, well, she sure is a little storyteller, isn't she?

MAYER: And when she saw the old "Ray Bradbury Theater" TV show, well, that was it.

MCGUIRE: A career path was set.

MAYER: Decades later, McGuire has so many fictional worlds in her head, she needs a wiki to keep them all straight. I asked her how many there were.

MCGUIRE: So many, so many. I don't actually know because some of them have yet to find a way to be written down.

MAYER: I jokingly refer to Seanan McGuire as the Joyce Carol Oates of genre fiction, but it's true. I asked her to list some of her series.

MCGUIRE: The "October Daye" series of urban fantasy novels, and those are sort of fairy tale noir. They're urban fantasy heavily influenced by my own background in folklore. The "InCryptid" series of urban fantasies, and those are more about modern cryptozoology, the diversity of monsters that you find both in the United States and around the world. And then we have the "Wayward Children." So they're about kids that survived trips to places like Narnia and Oz and then have to figure out how to readjust to living in this magicless world of ours.

MAYER: And that's just three of her worlds. She also writes horror under the name Mira Grant. One of her series is a journalists-meet-zombies tale called "Newsflesh," and I asked her if there was ever a point where her fictional worlds might meet.

MCGUIRE: No. No. No. You know what happens if you introduce the "Newsflesh" characters to any other universe? It's a zombie apocalypse. Everyone dies.

MAYER: Walking around the convention floor with McGuire is an experience. She's been coming here since she was 16, and every other person seems to know her.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hey.

MCGUIRE: Hey.

MAYER: And what's more, people see themselves in her worlds. I stopped by the massive autograph pavilion where fans were lining up to meet her. Samantha Beard was there to get books signed for herself and a friend, but she quickly got sidetracked when McGuire started admiring her collection of enamel pins.

MCGUIRE: I'm going to look up all of these pin manufacturers. Thank you so much.

MAYER: Beard says that part of why she loves McGuire's work is that she sees herself in it.

SAMANTHA BEARD: In "Underneath The Sugar Sky (ph)," her mermaid character, who's a little bit on the heavier side, I really connected with - this idea that, in her world, she was more suited to be a mermaid because she has more fat in her body just by the nature of her being. And that idea really resonated with me, that your faults maybe don't work in this world, but they can work in a world that you find or make for yourself somewhere else.

MAYER: McGuire says she has a policy. If someone she knows says they don't see themselves in literature, she writes a character that reflects them.

MCGUIRE: Well, one, your listeners can't see me, but I'm a large lady. I'm a size 18. I have OCD, and I am super queer. My girlfriend is here with me, and we've been together for 15 years. And you know what I have never seen, ever, in a fiction book? - is a fat girl with OCD who loves other girls - because if you say that's what you want to do, there's someone going, oh, so you've got a diversity checklist, huh? Because my existence is a diversity checklist.

MAYER: Everyone deserves to see themselves in stories, says Seanan McGuire.

MCGUIRE: But more importantly, everyone needs to see other people in stories. Part of how we learn empathy, part of how we learn to be human is by reading and listening and viewing stories and seeing people that don't look like us.

MAYER: And with that, she slipped away into a crowd of monsters, zombies and X-Men, and I followed, too. Petra Mayer, NPR News, San Diego.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRETTY LITTLE DEAD GIRL")

MCGUIRE: (Singing) She's a little out of date, but she's never out of style.

COLEMAN: Seanan McGuire also performs original music based on her books. You're hearing it right now, and there's more on our website.

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