Interview writing

Author Interview with Meradeth Houston


Meradeth and I have been friends and writing group buddies since 2012, and I feel incredibly lucky to know her and her writing. On top of being an anthropology professor, she’s published seven light fantasy/ sci-fi books with a lot of heart, sass, and action, most recently with Bleeding Ink Publishing, and she is generally an amazing person: smart, knowledgeable, kind, supportive, funny, gets stuff done (I envy that last, especially!). I proposed we exchange author interviews in honor of the release of Four Zines of Elsewhere, and I’m honored and delighted she agreed! That aside, let’s get to it!

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Oh my, I am a terrible panster. I have longed to be a plotter on so many occasions, but often this ends up killing the story for me. All the creativity and magic dries up and I end up with characters who stare back from the page with blank looks on their faces. For the most recent book I drafted, I wrote a very detailed outline. It worked…for about half of the story. Then I wandered off in the direction that my story and characters took me. I would love the structure and ability to untie the knots of story I get myself into ahead of time, but it seems that my writing style just isn’t cohesive to it, for better or worse (mostly worse, as I get bogged down in story holes and lack of characterization far too easily).

Who are some favorite authors, and why do they mean so much to you?

I have answered this question a hundred times and each time it’s a bit different because I’m reading something new that I utterly adore and it’s been fresh on my mind. Favorites that have stood the test of time have been Madeleine L’Engle, and A Wrinkle in Time has been one of my touchstones for ages. (Come to think of it, I’m due for my yearly re-read….) Some of her work is what originally drew me to writing, as I didn’t want to leave the world she had created. I also lately have been enjoying the books of Rebecca Roanhorse, which are fantastical and captivating. The N.K. Jemisin The Broken Earth series consumed me earlier this year, too. I’m in the middle of The Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth and finding it to be wonderfully fun. In the end, I want fiction that drags me into another world where I can experience the lives of others, peek into their consciousness, and be inspired by their stories. 

What inspired your most recent book?

I just finished drafting the second book in The Coincidence Makers series, which was all kinds of fun. I love these characters and the premise, which I’ll get into below a bit more. The idea for characters that make coincidences happen came to me while listening to RadioLab on NPR, which had a very fun episode of the most amazing coincidences that have happened to people. The rest of it came together as some of my favorite themes come into play: immortality, the nature of chance, and all of that. This most recent work also had some of my deep seated fears of a giant earthquake come into play–something that has been around since I was a child in California and lived through the Loma Prieta earthquake (just a little teaser!).

How does your day job as a professor affect your creative work? Has it changed your standards? Has it changed how you look at writing?

My job as a professor has definitely affected my creative work, mainly through exposing me to a whole lot of random ideas and concepts. There are so many unknowns out there that science is slowly chipping away at, and I love that. Also, I find my day job to lead to burnout oh so fast, and I need some creativity to balance out the stress of it all (academia: not for the faint of heart…). It has also changed my standards in some ways: I see seniors come into my classroom all the time and am flummoxed by their level of understanding of the world. They don’t read, often never get the chance to travel, and beyond their narrow view of the world, just haven’t had a chance to experience much. Now, I know full well my privilege is showing as I say this: my parents let me read probably too much as a kid, we were lucky to travel some when I was young and I have been able to continue to do so, and I grew up speaking several languages. It was lucky in many ways. And today, well, so many don’t have this kind of background that I love being able to add little bits and bobs into my work to expose people to the wild and amazing world around us. (Or, well, I try at least ;)\

Inspiration and perspiration — in what forms does inspiration come to you? How important is “the muse” to your creative process? What parts of writing “just come” and what parts require hard work? 

The romantic part of me desperately wishes there were such a thing as a “muse.” Perhaps then I would have learned how to court her and my writing wouldn’t feel so…limp all the time. However, the logical side of my brain, which is definitely dominant, really only believes in hard work. I force myself to get in words, even when I don’t feel like it. Sometimes this works and something emerges that I love, sometimes it doesn’t and I end up with crap that I have to rewrite a hundred times. But it’s all work, and nothing happens without putting in the time and effort. Now, this is not to say that I don’t enjoy the work at times, but it is that: work. 

Tricky touchy one: God. We are two pretty secular people, but we both find ourselves drawn to topics usually associated with religion (again in our different ways). Why?

This is such a good question, and such a hard one! I recognize that the “divine” works its way into my stories quite a lot. I can’t seem to avoid it. Yet, I am not religious. Not at all. There was a time in my life when my family forced me into church and I went along because it, well, it was hard to avoid the sense of familial obligation. Looking back, I know full well it was never “me.” My brain does not lean that way, and I love logic and science and reasoning. Along with that comes a love for the unknown and mysteries, coincidences especially–so, what drives the things that we don’t understand quite yet? And, honestly, some deep rooted desire that somehow, maybe, there’s a reason for the madness that is in the world. As an anthropologist, I study humans–mostly past humans. Lots of evolution and change…and a lot of how humans are shitty to one another. Sometimes I marvel that we’ve even made it to today. So, it is with this in mind that I find myself imagining reasons for why we haven’t just died out or killed one another off (quite yet at least), and that’s where the magical comes in, the divine (with a lowercase ‘d’). I wish there were more, a pattern, a goal: because reality is harsh and cold and often kinda shitty. 

About the Author

Meradeth Houston is an author who lives in Montana where she’s also an anthropology professor and scientist. If you let her, she’ll tell you more than you ever wanted to know about getting DNA out of dead bodies and old poop. She specializes in degraded DNA (translation: really old DNA that’s decayed), and runs two laboratories filled with students, interns, and maybe a few shenanigans. Her research seeks to better understand the dynamic of past migration on human populations. Her goal is to someday clone herself because that’s probably the only way she’ll ever get through her to-do list. Though, who knows, maybe that’ll mean she’s donating to someone else’s soul?

Other than teaching, research, and writing, Meradeth enjoys the lakes and ski slopes of Western Montana. It’s not uncommon to find her haunting the cafes of Missoula or walking her dogs by the rivers.

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