Throughout September, we’re celebrating the women of queer Sci-Fi/Fantasy! You can find the master-list of posts and the schedule here!
Today we’re excited to welcome author Sarah Gailey to the blog to talk about her series of alternate history, that has hippos in it, people, and about queer and female representation in fiction.
El: Hi Sarah! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some of our questions today.
Let’s start with the burning question: What made you decide to write an alternative history of the US with feral killer hippos?
I wanted to write a heist narrative — a caper — and I wanted to write about fabulous hats and bloodshed. Hippos were a natural fit, of course.
Seriously, though. A.B. Guthrie once said something to the effect of: the key to good writing is a constant thread of the unexpected. When I had the idea to write about an America in which the Hippo Bill passed, I knew that I could do something with them that would keep that thread of the unexpected going strong throughout the story, and River of Teeth was born.
El: River of Teeth is a book with a fantastically diverse cast, and a variety of very distinct voices. Did you have a favorite character to write or a particular scene that you really love?
I know I’m not supposed to pick favorites, but I truly love Archie with all my heart. I wrote her to be the sexy, fearless, hyper-competent person that I wish I could be more often.
I also had a great time writing every scene between Houndstooth and Hero. I love the way they challenge each other, and the way they instantly understand each other. Their romance is sudden and fierce and hot, and I was a blushing mess every time I wrote them together.
El: There’s a line in River of Teeth that our reviewer Mel brought up as being one of her favorites: “‘I have no need of a husband. This girl will have no need of a father. Perhaps a second mother, someday—but if not?’ She shrugged. ‘It makes no difference.'”
Can you talk a little about the society you’ve built in this universe, and how the gender roles and sexual orientation of your characters fit into that?
This is a tricky thing to articulate. The characters in River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow are flawed and lonely and desperate, but they’re also as self-defined as it’s possible for them to be. They’ve made it in the world they live in by being aggressively competent and incredibly tough, and they’ve seen too much shit to let anyone tell them how they’re allowed to live their lives. The society that they’re in respects that self-definition because the characters living in this world have more immediate concerns than policing gender identity and sexuality.
It’s not that gender and sexuality don’t matter in the world of River of Teeth. Of course they matter. But anyone who encounters Adelia Reyes is going to recognize foremost that she is not to be trifled with because that’s how she’s chosen to define herself. These characters are who they decide to be, and the decisions that they make tell the world about them in ways that more intrinsic characteristics like gender and sexuality don’t.
Mel: I think you articulated that just fine and having read your books it rings true to me as well.
El: The sequel to River of Teeth just came out. How did you change your approach to writing these characters with Taste of Marrow, which is a very different book tone-wise?
I wrote a novel in between writing River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow. It was the first novel I’d ever written, and the longest thing I’d ever even attempted. The process of that taught me to give emotional beats more breathing room, and to let my characters have more moments of introspection. I brought that perspective to writing Taste of Marrow, which is more reflective and exploratory. A lot of the exposition that’s necessary in River of Teeth wasn’t needed for Taste of Marrow, so I was able to devote more wordcount to feelings and development.
Additionally, I wanted to use Taste of Marrow to explore the emotional aftermath of a big destructive caper. At the end of heist plots, we leave our heroes battered and injured and emotionally damaged, and the credits roll, and we never have to see the consequences of adventure. Taste of Marrow is about those consequences: the characters from the first book have to try to heal. While they’re still badass and awesome, they’re also human, and I tried to give readers a window into that humanity.
El: Are there any ladies in the SFF genre that stand out to you as being exceptional and kickass?
There are so many! I think V.E. Schwab is changing the way we look at age level accessibility, and she’s more driven than anyone else I know. Alyssa Wong is a luminous voice whose stories have a grip on my heart. Fonda Lee writes things that I absolutely cannot put down for love nor money. I will always read anything that Charlie Jane Anders writes, and I will read it knowing that it will change the shape of the folds in my brain.
El: And last but not least: What’s the last book you read that absolutely blew you away?
I just finished reading Jade City by Fonda Lee, and it is absolutely menacingly great. Lee is one of my favorite writers of genre fiction, and she’s even better at writing organized crime than Puzo. Jade City is The Godfather meets Fifth Season, and I want everyone in the world to buy it and read it again and again so we can all shout to each other about it.
El: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions!
Sarah Gailey’s wildfire debut River of Teeth is a rollicking alternate history adventure that Charlie Jane Anders calls “preposterously fun.”
In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.
Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.
This was a terrible plan.
Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.
You can purchase River of Teeth from:
Amazon | iTunes | Google Play | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | eBooks.com
Or add it to Goodreads
Campbell finalist Sarah Gailey’s hippo mayhem continues in Taste of Marrow, the sequel to rollicking adventure River of Teeth.
A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the dam that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway.
Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: “And not a soul escaped alive.”
In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they’ve become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.
You can purchase Taste of Marrow from:
Amazon | iTunes | Barnes & Noble| Kobo | eBooks.com
Or add it to Goodreads
Hugo and Campbell finalist SARAH GAILEY came onto the scene in 2015 and has since become one of the sharpest, funniest voices in pop culture online. She is a regular contributor for multiple websites, including Tor.com. Her nonfiction has appeared in Mashable and The Boston Globe, and her fiction has been published internationally. She has a novel forthcoming from Tor Books in Spring 2019. She lives in Oakland, California.