Tuesday 19 September 2023

An Interview with Darcie Little Badger

Darcie Little Badger is a Lipan Apache writer with a PhD in oceanography. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Elatsoe, was featured in Time Magazine as one of the best 100 fantasy books of all time. Elatsoe also won the Locus award for Best First Novel and is a Nebula, Ignyte, and Lodestar finalist. Her second fantasy novel, A Snake Falls to Earth, received a Nebula Award, an Ignyte Award, and a Newbery Honor and is on the National Book Awards longlist. She is married to a veterinarian named Taran. 

Little Badger will be the featured reader at the Final Thursday Reading Series on September 28 at the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The open mic takes place at 7:00 p.m. and Darcie Little Badger takes the stage at 7:30. This in-person only event is made possible by the Ila M. Hemm Visiting Author Program. 

Interview conducted by Sheila Benson. 

SHEILA BENSON: Can you describe your Iowa connections?
I was four years old when my family moved to Coralville, so named for its abundance of marine fossils, gorgeous and enigmatic remnants from a prehistoric ocean. Mom and Dad were students at the University of Iowa, and I attended Coralville Central Elementary School kindergarten through fifth grade. So during very formative years, I grew up among corn, yeah, but also among fossilized crinoids, coral, and brachiopods, alien wonders underfoot, everywhere. I remember visiting the natural history museum at U of I, seeing the Dunkleosteus exhibit and imagining life in the Devonian ocean, which was older than the dinosaurs. I was in awe. 

Needless to say, my time in Iowa sparked my curiosity about the world. And the Dunkleosteus exhibit might’ve influenced my decision to become an oceanographer. I wonder if it’s still there. [Ed.: yes, it is!

SB: Who would you say are major influences on your writing—style, subject matter, or both? Or maybe "influences" isn't the right word; are there particular authors or styles that you are responding to in your work?
DLB: This is a good question, one I revisit often. As we grow as artists, our craft evolves, and sometimes our predominant influences shift. But when I first developed my voice, took those all-important first steps of the writing journey, I was just a kid. Therefore, I give a lot of credit to the science fiction, fantasy, and horror books I read during elementary and middle school. Things like Goosebumps, Animorphs, the Redwall series, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Those series were a joy to read; I was on tenterhooks for every new release. During this time, I developed a deep appreciation for “genre” fiction and decided that I wanted to write fantasy, sci-fi, and horror books, too. 

SB: Can you describe a typical writing day for you (a productive one, perhaps a less productive one, maybe a little of both—your choice)?
In 2020, after the publication of Elatsoe, I became a full-time writer, which is a privilege and dream; many writers work multiple jobs, and I’m beyond fortunate to now have extra time to focus on my art. 

Typically, I wake up at 11 AM, exercise for an hour, clean up, and then write/do other work (including emails) for about 4 hours at a nearby cafĂ© or bookstore. My drink of choice is an iced Americano, and I’ll sip it as I work. Afterwards, I return home, make supper, and goof around until my spouse comes home (I’ve started streaming games and writing sprints on Twitch–it’s fun). If I have a looming deadline, I’ll work in the evening through night and early morning, sometimes finishing at 3 a.m. (bedtime). That’s usually not the case, though. 

I once tried to write eight hours a day, on a 9-to-5 schedule, but it didn’t work out. My creative process is more chaotic, I guess. 

SB: Why speculative fiction? What's the draw? What are some of your challenges in writing speculative fiction, and how do you work through those challenges?
I love the freedom of spec fic, the ability to create worlds that vary from ours (in big or small ways). That said, there are challenges to writing fantasy. Just because a world has magic doesn’t mean it lacks rules, and writers have to decide what those limits are. How does the fantastic affect our characters? What are the physics of our imaginary concepts? And so on. For me, the editing process is very important because it gives me the chance to review the book and ensure that its speculative elements (and non spec elements) are consistent. 

SB: Finally, a fun question: Elatsoe is filled with dogs and their joy. Can you tell us a little about your love of dogs? Do you have dogs in your life right now? Any details about them that you'd like to share?
I’m married to a veterinarian, so we get a stream of animals moving through our house, mostly foster cases that need a little extra care before they go to their forever home. Bunnies, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, kittens. I’m very fond of animals, as a rule. But dogs definitely have a special place in my heart. 

My family’s first dog was an English Springer Spaniel, a shelter dog with sweet brown eyes. My brother and I named him Kirby, after the round, pink video game character who can eat anything (it turned out to be a prophetic name, considering Dog Kirby’s appetite; he once grabbed a birthday cheesecake off the kitchen counter and dragged it under the bed to devour it alone). Overall, Kirby was an intelligent, calm, and gentle dog, and I loved teaching him tricks like “be a seal” (he’d sit on his hind legs and put his front paws in the air) and rewarding him with training treats. 

The ghost dog in Elatsoe, Kirby, is absolutely based on the real Kirby. He was a good boy <3

These days, I have a chihuahua mix named Rosie and a German shepherd named Valeria; every dog I’ve known and loved has been a unique and special soul.

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