‘‘I started writing at a very young age. In 5th grade, I started keeping a journal that was about me and an entourage of invisible snarky dragons that hung out with me during my boring classes. Of course they were snarky – I’d just read The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy and thought it was great. The main dragon was named Éponene, after my favorite character from Les Miserables. So yeah, I was into musical theater and dragons, had no social skills, wore Phantom of the Opera T-shirts, and wondered, ‘Why don’t I have any friends?’ Well, no friends except for my friend Heather, who was into Star Trek: The Next Generation, and introduced me to AOL Instant Messenger (where we had some interesting experiences with boys online). She also kept a journal about snarky dragons, and they would interact. When we’d hang out, we’d write accounts of what happened, and read each other’s journals. I guess it was my first writerly collaboration…”

‘‘And yet, second-world fantasy isn’t at all what I’ve ended up writing. I write alternative-history horror and fantasy. In Vermilion, I wanted to create a sense of fantastical otherness, besides the ghosts and bears, but there’s no magic. There are alchemists, later in the book, but it’s all science based. My protagonist Lou Merriwether isn’t a magical girl who’s special because she can see ghosts. That’s not to insult that genre – I do like that kind of stuff. I grew up on Sailor Moon, and I’ll never not love magical girls. But I wanted Lou to be a technician. She has no special powers other than grit, determination, physical resilience, and an ability to distance herself from her work (which I never had when I was a social worker). I wanted those traits to be her defining characteristics, things she had to personally develop through discipline and practice, rather than anything that was naturally special about her. That was important to me in developing her character.”

‘‘In Vermilion, I wanted to at least try to en­gage with the glorious spectrum of who people are, what they feel and think. I’m so excited that I get to do a sequel. It will be called Quicksilver, which will come out next year. It’ll be a bit differ­ent. Vermilion is pretty solidly a Weird Western, but it’s also 18 other genres. (Yay, small press!) The next one is going to be more like a California crime novel, but with ghosts and shit. I want to keep playing with genre.

‘‘I’ve talked a lot about Shai, but Lou will again be the star of Quicksilver. I can’t wait to write her again. It’s not easy for her to be true to herself, in Vermilion; in Quicksilver, that will change a bit. I want to tap into that. If Vermillion is about Lou growing up, Quicksilver is going to be more her coming in to her confidence.”

‘‘Vermilion was inspired partly by my move to Colorado. I wanted to write a book about hiking through Colorado forests and finding out what might be lurking in them. I was also dealing with a lot of my feelings about America. Capitalism, the destruction of the environment, the way things could have been, how humans exist in the world, the way that we treat the outsider, the way we define what is and isn’t normal based on who has power – it’s a novel about power. Actually, every novel I write, and maybe every single short story I write, too, is about power exchange. Who has power, who doesn’t have it, and how does that af­fect them and their sense of self? What do people do with the power they get? Do they cling to it? Do they give it away? That’s Vermilion.”

‘‘For me, that’s the easy stuff about writ­ing – mining human dynamics. I fucking hate worldbuilding, it’s almost driven me away from writing genre fiction so many times. I don’t want to figure out a system of magic. I don’t want to figure out how things work. I have to do this with the project I’m currently working on, and it’s really been freaking me out. I few weeks back I was just sitting there, staring at my laptop, thinking, ‘I’m going to write a crime novel, because fuck this.’ I just want demons in this book! No one knows how demons work! They’re otherworldly. They’re uncanny. Why do people want to know how they work? But I know it needs to make sense in some way. And I really do love the book, and the demons in it! Really! It’s been haunting me for so long, and I’m so glad to be finishing it up and putting it out into the world soon. It’s called The Ginger Eaters, and I’ve described it as a feminist retelling of The Picture of Dorian Gray with demons and sword fighting.”

Read the complete interview in the May 2016 issue of Locus Magazine. Interview design by Francesca Myman.