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February 2008
Locus Magazine
Maureen F. McHugh: Filling the Void
Maureen F. McHugh grew up in Loveland OH, and received a BA from Ohio University in 1981, where she took a creative writing course from Daniel Keyes in her senior year. After earning a master's in English and spending time as a part-time college instructor she spent a year teaching in Shijiazhuang China.

During that period she sold her first story in 1988. Notable stories include Hugo and Nebula nominees "Protection" (1992) and "The Cost to be Wise" (1996); Nebula and Sturgeon finalist "Nekropolis" (1994); Hugo and Locus Award winner and Nebula finalist "The Lincoln Train" (1995); Sturgeon finalist "Interview: On Any Given Day" (2001); Hugo finalist "Presence" (2002); and World Fantasy Award nominee "Ancestor Money" (2003).

Her first novel China Mountain Zhang appeared in 1992; it was a Hugo and Nebula finalist, and won a Tiptree Award. Other books include Half the Day Is Night (1994), Mission Child (1998), and Nekropolis (2001). Some of her short fiction is collected in Mothers & Other Monsters (2006) In recent years she's done work
Photo by Amelia Beamer

Blog No Feeling of Falling
for Sean Stewart's company 4orty2wo Entertainment, which specializes in the developing art form of alternate reality gaming.

McHugh was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2004, and has been undergoing treatment since. She keeps a blog about her experiences at She and her husband Bob Yeager recently relocated from Cleveland OH to Austin TX.
Excerpts from the interview:

“The big difference I've noticed lately is that I'm now of the generation of writers which is established, and that's very strange! I still feel like a newbie, very much so. And yet, teaching at Clarion I spend a lot of time with the New Turks and I've realized we're not shaping science fiction any more. They're the ones. I can still do good work, still do great work, but it will be work in a tradition which is now changing underneath me. You're shaping them in the sense that often they react against you -- you become a place from which to push off.”


“Probably the biggest change in my writing is because I've been working for Sean Stewart, doing alternate-reality gaming scripts. It's been very interesting. At 48, I'm probably one of the oldest content providers. Elan Lee and Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart have been creating what I think is the art form for the Internet. Sean hired me as one of three writers, and he told me later he hired me because he wanted one person who would kind of give it a little bit of artiness. They didn't expect me to write very much, because I write so slowly, but it turns out that I wrote a lot more than anyone else!

“The first project I worked on was I Love Bees. That was the breakout one, and we were doing audio scripts (it's nine hours of radio play on the Internet, among other things). In week three or four he said, 'We've been very grim. We need something to change it up.' I said, 'I think humor would be really good,' and he said, 'Good. You're gonna write it.' And with that, I went off and tried to write funny. (Evidently, some people thought it was funny.)

“Time after time, Sean has come to me and said, 'You have to write something' way out of my comfort zone, and he's forced me to write in ways I've never written before. I'm beginning to see, a few years later, that come into my other writing. Once you've written a radio script, you've had to learn to write dialogue. A lot of people use dialogue for exposition or characterization, but dialogue is actually action: it's a swordfight, or making love, it's something one character is doing to somebody else, something that two people are doing to each other. So primarily, dialogue has to be shaped in the way action scenes are shaped. There has to be some emotional situation that's set up and evolves, starts to resolve or gets complicated.”


“I'm working again on Baby Goth, a novel I've been working on for years and years. I've thrown it out five times, then started over. It's probably urban fantasy. I would say it's in response to all the changes in my life, but I started it in the year 2000 before any of those changes. I'm talking about it on my blog -- not posting excerpts, but talking about the fact that I'm writing (hopefully in an interesting and amusing way) and about what it's like to write a novel. The nice thing about the Internet is, you can talk and people don't have to listen! I started this damned blog on the Internet when I got sick, so I wouldn't have to pick up the phone again and have somebody say, 'I haven't talked to you in a long time. How you doing?' It just changes the whole phone conversation when I say, 'Wellll... I've been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.'”


“A lot of my fiction today is less genre than Michael Chabon's, but I sold my first pieces in the late '80s and there was no McSweeney's, so I'm now genre. Derrida's essay on genre begins, 'There is unease at the heart of genre.' It's an argument I've been at so many times, I just don't want to have it anymore. Mothers and Other Monsters was a finalist for the Story Prize, a very literary award. A couple of editors walked up to me at the reception and asked, 'Where have you been publishing?', and I said 'In science fiction magazines.' You could just say that I follow Carol Emshwiller.

Mothers and Other Monsters has actually not lost any money for Small Beer Press, which I think is a cool thing for a collection. It's because Nancy Pearl, NPR librarian, reviewed it and loved it. She announced, of course, that it was not science fiction! She gave it a very thoughtful review; she just, like so many people, thought, 'This is too good. It must not be genre.' But I still don't know that I could get a job uptown.”

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