While it sometimes seems like people are taking the “shared universe” concept a bit far — we’re looking at you, producers of the connected G.I. Joe, Micronauts, and M.A.S.K. movies — there are some who still understand how to do it right. Take writer Seanan McGuire, whose Wayward Children series started with the main book Every Heart A Doorway, and now continues with the stand-alone prequel novel Down Among The Sticks And Bones (hardcover, digital). But in talking to McGuire about how the new novella came together, she revealed the clever way it connects, but also lets you disconnect it, from the main books in her series.
To begin, what is Down Among The Sticks And Bones, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the previous book in your Wayward Children series, Every Heart A Doorway?
Down Among The Sticks And Bones is the first of our prequel novellas, following Jack and Jill — two of the supporting characters from Every Heart A Doorway — during their original journey through an impossible door to an equally impossible world. It is the story of how they came to be suitable students for Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children. It takes place before Every Heart A Doorway, though neither is required reading for the other.
There are, of course, a number of different sub-genres in the fantasy realm. Where does Down Among The Sticks And Bones fit in — and Every Heart A Doorway as well for that matter — and why did you feel this was the best one for this story? Or was it the other way around, and you came up with a story and then realized where it fit in?
Down Among The Sticks And Bones is really a dark gothic fantasy, while Every Heart A Doorway is more of a portal fantasy crossed with a boarding school mystery.
But I try not to nail myself down to a single genre, because genres are really more like spices: once you’ve decided what kind of dish you’re making, you can mix and match them to get the best flavor profile for what you’re hoping to accomplish.
So what writers, and which of their works, do you feel were the biggest influences on Down Among The Sticks And Bones, in terms of what you wrote and how you wrote it? And I do mean specifically for Down Among The Sticks And Bones, not your writing style as a whole.
I have absolutely no idea. I try not to read in the sub-genre where I’m writing because I don’t want to be influenced without realizing it. I know who has influenced my overall writing style, but I can’t say who influenced this specific book.
Fair enough. What about non-literary influences, are there are movies, TV shows, or video games you think were an influence on Down Among The Sticks And Bones?
Going to say, again, none. I don’t watch horror movies while I’m actually writing horror; I don’t listen to gloomy ballads while I’m writing a gloomy ballad of a story. That way lies nothing good for me.
You mentioned earlier that while Down Among The Sticks And Bones is the second book in your Wayward Children series, it’s also a stand-alone novel. Why did you decide to write it in such a way that it could be enjoyed by someone who hadn’t read Every Heart A Doorway?
Every Heart A Doorway is the story of a bunch of people who have been changed — and in some cases, broken — by events that happened before the book began. I always knew that if I was allowed to revisit this setting, I would want to write those events. So I did. The plan for the overall series is to alternate between books set at the school and books that tell the story of how the various students ended up there.
But what happens if someone reads and enjoys Down Among The Sticks And Bones and then they read Every Heart A Doorway? Will it tear a hole in the space-time continuum? Because I have Metallica tickets and I’d hate for the universe to implode before the show.
I think it will change how certain actions in Every Heart A Doorway will be interpreted, and may shift sympathies among the cast, but they’re intended to be read in whichever direction works best for you. Really, as long as the books set at the school are read in order, you’ll be fine.
Interesting. So is the Wayward Children series going to be an ongoing thing, or do you have a set number of books in mind?
The Wayward Children books will continue until they are over. That’s how my brain works. The events of each book will inform the next, and when we’re coming to a logical conclusion, I will write “the end” and go off to do something else.
So I understand there’s been some interest in making a movie based on these books. If asked, who would you like to see cast in the main roles and why them?
I don’t do fantasy casting. It’s way too easy to get hung up on “but this person was supposed to play that role” and get upset when casting doesn’t go that way. I will trust the production company to make these decisions. I’ll fight for the diversity of my cast, but not for specific names.
Finally, if someone enjoys Down Among The Sticks And Bones, I would assume they’ve either read Every Heart A Doorway, or that’s what you would recommend they read next. But if someone’s read both, which of your other books would you suggest they read next and why that one?
If you’ve read and enjoyed both Down Among The Sticks And Bones and Every Heart A Doorway, I would suggest either reading Rosemary And Rue [the first book of her October Daye series] or Discount Armageddon [the first book of her InCryptid series]. Those books are, respectively, the starts of my two longest-running series, so if you’re looking for more of my work, they would give you the most bang for your buck.