Death and Doom (and Cats) at the KGB Bar with Seanan McGuire and Nadia Bulkin

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Wednesday, June 16, 2021, the Fantastic Fiction at KGB Reading Series, hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel, presented authors Seanan McGuire and Nadia Bulkin in livestreamed readings on YouTube. (Neither reader is running for Mayor of New York.)

This is the 16th month of virtual readings, in place of in-person reading at the eponymous bar in the East Village in Manhattan, noted Kressel. New York City may be “open,” added Datlow, but they don’t yet feel comfortable “going into the crowd” at the Bar for at least a few more months. (NYS is at 70% inoculated at least partially.) Meanwhile, links were given to support the KGB Bar during the shutdown and the Reading Series’ expenses. (For details, visit www.kgbfantasticfiction.org.) The evening’s readings were sponsored by Tor and Nightfire Books.

The first reader was Nadia Bulkin, the author of the short story collection She Said Destroy and a five-time nominee for the Shirley Jackson Award. The story that she read was “Vide Meum Cor” (Latin for “see my heart”) from the anthology Voices in the Darkness. In essence, it was five short stories within a story. The axe murder of a family (who appear later as ghosts) sends ripples through a farm community as they each take different things from it, and reflect on their own losses. The ordinary family’s legacy is their murder.

There was a short break. (We had to provide our own hydration.)

A recipient of the John W. Campbell, Hugo and Nebula Awards, Seanan McGuire is a phenomenally prolific writer of science fiction, fantasy, horror, tie-in novels and comics, with more than forty volumes under both her own name and the names “Mira Grant,” her pseudonym for more horrific fiction, and A. Deborah Baker. “She isn’t very big on sleeping like a reasonable person.” Her first novel was Rosemary and Rue (which launched the October Daye series) and her most recent are Across the Green Grass Fields (in her Wayward Children series) and Angel of the Overpass, third in the Ghost Roads series.

The story that she offered, “Love in the Last Days of a Doomed World,” was originally published on her Patreon. The titular doom is a comet. The narrator has had a lifelong affinity for physics and later becomes a physicist, while her brother was a huge fan of comic book superheroes, particularly one in blue tights who could fly and lift cars. “But this is not a story about Krypton.” (Suns don’t go nova overnight, she asserts; how did the people of Krypton not see it coming? Maybe they did, and just went on with life.)

A Q&A session followed. (Those at the virtual readings are much more extensive and revealing than those at the in-person readings. Along with the worldwide accessibility to invite readers, it’s another up side of the current setup.) McGuire’s prolific output is enabled by her being “very disciplined.” A 10-sided die (that she held up) determines how many words that she’ll write that day. She stops only for food and the bathroom. She organizes her work in a file, an on-paper planner, so that she knows what she owes and to whom. (Datlow uses a day planner, having in the past lost power and access to her computer.) McGuire regards revising as time spent not writing, so doesn’t resent being edited; writers and editors are “like a superhero team.”

Asked about reading recommendations, McGuire praised Catherynne M. Valente, and Bulkin Daniel Mills’s Among the Lilies. As favorite podcasts, Bulkin named Generation Y and Swindle (about white collar crime).

Will there be a sequel to Middlegame? McGuire noted that Seasonal Fears is not a direct sequel, but a “sidequel” set in the same world. What are they working on now? Bulkin is working on a novel about people running away from a cult. “It’s normal for people to want that type of belonging.” McGuire can’t talk about her next project because of lots of NDAs.

Turning to horror, Bulkin said that she likes “sad, dark horror stories” with women leads. McGuire uses Kenneth Muir’s book as a list. Datlow related that people are surprised that, though she edits horror, she doesn’t watch a lot of horror movies.

Cats making cameos included Jack (of course), Piper and Elsie.

Upcoming readers are:

  • July 21 – Kim Stanley Robinson & Nancy Kress
  • August 18 – A.C. Wise & David Leo Rice
  • September 15 – Mari Ness & Ellen Klages

On October 20th, the Series will be back in person at the KGB Bar! The readers will be Michael DeLuca and Daryl Gregory.

2 thoughts on “Death and Doom (and Cats) at the KGB Bar with Seanan McGuire and Nadia Bulkin

  1. Thanks for the great write-up, Mark, but just to refresh your memory of the “in-person” ways, in the past we’ve never held Q&As with the readers– although come October, we’re thinking of doing so (we just need to figure out logistics)

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