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This blog was featured on 07/16/2019
An Exclusive Interview with Sarah Gailey
Written by
She Writes
July 2019
Written by
She Writes
July 2019

She Writes got the chance to have a chat with Sarah Gailey, this month's guest editor and author of Magic for Liars. They shared their writing routine, the challenges of creating their first novel and their hope for the publishing industry. 

Describe your writing routine.

When everything is going well, I prefer writing at my desk at home. I like to sit down, light a basil-scented candle, put on some music -- lately, it's the most recent Carly Rae Jepsen album -- and dig into the deadline of the day. That's my ideal writing routine, but none of that is required for me to get the words on the page. In the last month, I've done a lot of writing in airports, in planes, in hotel rooms, and even in the back of taxicabs. The only thing I really need, ultimately, is my computer and a goal.

You write in different genres and utilize different forms. How do you choose your next story? Do you always know in the beginning the length and genre it will be in or do you just write and find it along the way?

I always know the length and genre of the thing I'm writing when I start writing it. Usually, I write toward a wordcount goal -- that's one of the things that helps me place my plot beats even when I'm writing at significantly different lengths. Lately, I've been choosing my next story by starting with a genre -- say, horror -- and then trying to decide what it is that I want to say within that medium. If I want to say something about isolation and trauma, or cycles of abuse, or food waste, that's going to guide what I do within that world. Then I populate the story with characters: who am I interested in writing about? I use those decisions as support for the story I'm going to construct. Then I spend about a day bashing my head against a wall, and after that, the story usually comes.

Were there any new challenges you faced while writing Magic for Liars that you hadn't before?

Magic for Liars was my first novel, so I faced all the challenges that come along with writing at that length. A novel is a completely different kind of creature from a short story or a novella; for me, it's less about writing a longer story, and more about writing a deeper story. I had to make space in the narrative to examine a level of internality and thematic tension that I'd never paid attention to before. It was a lot of fun, and I've started bringing that perspective back into my shorter work.

From American Hippos, to magic, to "queer westerns about antifascist spy librarians" your stories have a delightfully wide range of topics. Do you feel there is one common thread that unites them (other than the fact that you wrote them)?

Everything I write has a queer perspective, even if the characters aren't engaged in a storyline that interacts directly with queer sexuality or relationships. Themes of isolation, self-examination, identity, and found family are common in my work.

What would you say to other writers who might be nervous about pushing their creative boundaries and writing "outside the lines?"

I would tell them not to feel that they have to push boundaries just for the sake of doing it. Centering a purpose beyond "I have to try other things" is a great way to dispel the fear of screwing up. If you're pushing your boundaries because you want to grow, or because you want to reach a different audience, then trying something new becomes exciting rather than scary. There's no such thing as wasted words! A writer who tries something new can never fail; they can only grow.

Who are the people you need most to help support your writing career?

My literary agent, DongWon Song, is the key to my entire career. Throughout the process of developing my writing career, he's been a brilliant advocate and guide. I also rely on my editors in a huge way, and have had the tremendous good fortune to work with several brilliant editors already. Their keen insights are crucial to the development and growth of my work.

Where do you hope to see the publishing world head in the future?

I'm hoping that publishing will continue on a path toward embracing stories from people who have traditionally been shut out of publishing or pushed into niche markets. We need more stories by queer and trans creators, creators of color, native creators, disabled creators -- we need more of their voices and more of their stories. I also hope that publishing will be brave. There's a need for courage in our industry; there's inherent risk involved in the fight for equality and justice, and publishing can drift toward risk-aversion. But that risk is worth it, and the more we as an industry harness our courage and continue to create and promote work that helps make the world better, the more we dig into our purpose as creative people. 

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