Margo Lanagan was friendly, approachable, relaxed, and well-spoken. It was clear that she is confident in her writing and comfortable talking about aspects of her work. Though she discussed several of her works, she read from and primarily discussed her newest young adult book, The Brides of Rollrock Island, which is her take on selkies. One of the aspects of selkie stories that Lanagan always wondered about was why they never seemed to be proactive about finding their stolen skins. The areas where the stories are set are often remote and she never quite understood why the women didn't self-help more, especially considering how they are never truly human and there's always something of the sea in them, which leaves a certain amount of sadness and sets them apart from humans. She said that she wanted portions of the book to be from the male's perspective as an attempt to capture that strangeness. To demonstrate, she read the following section of the book:
"Seals do not sit about and tell, the way people do, and their lives are not eventful in the way that people's are, lines of story combed out again and again, in the hope that they will yield more sense with every stroke. Seal life already makes perfect sense, and needs no explanation. At the approach of my man-mind, my seal life slips apart into glimpses and half memories: sunlight shafts into the green; the mirror roof crinkles above; the mams race ahead through the halls and cathedrals and along the high roads of the sea; boat bellies rock against the light, and men mumble and splash at their business above; the seal-men spin their big bodies by their delicate tails as lightly as land-lads spin wooden tops, shooting forward, upward, outward. Movement in the sea is very much like flying, through a green air flocking with tiny lives, and massier ones more slowly coasting by." (hardcover, p. 255)
When asked whether writing the novel was a long process, Lanagan said that it took her about eighteen months while she worked part-time. She said that the book had to be wholly re-formed almost twice. "Writing is many levels of self-delusion," she said, "You think you're done when you're not." Editors and publishers might not be an author's favorite people to talk to about their work but she said they asked her all the right questions about this novel and that she knew somewhere inside of her that the problems they mentioned existed, but that she appreciates the criticism because it does not come hand in hand with a presumption about how she can/will fix anything. Tender Morsels took her about the same amount of time. When she started writing that book, she was in the middle of several other half-completed projects and wasn't sure if she could finish anything full-length. Obviously, she said, she felt less tension when writing Rollrock because she had concrete evidence that she was capable. Someone inquired what she's currently working on and the answer is that she's doing short stories now but that she's also working on another full-length novel about an Irish convict who comes to Australia and accidentally brings a goddess with him. (you know, as you do) She wrote a zero draft of the book during NaNoWriMo (presumably last year) but she said it needs a lot of work. When she was writing the first draft of Rollrock, she kept receiving emails from editors asking her to participate in this or that anthology and she said her mental process was like, "Oh! Dragons. Oh! Witches. And short stories are so short, I can definitely do this," and subsequently said yes to quite a few people. As it turns out, she'd agreed to do twelve short stories. She ended up completing every single one of them and they will all be published, though it seemed clear she hoped never to put herself in such a position again. At this point, she has five separate short story collections out, and another one, Yellowcake, containing previously published shorts, will be published in May 2013. (it's already published in Australia)
Here's Lanagan discussing a bit about selkie lore and reading from Rollrock (sorry about the audio quality):
The last discussion of the event was about the time period in which The Brides of Rollrock Island is set, for that issue caused a bit of confusion with one reader in the audience. The reader said she was just rolling with the story, picturing it mostly in some olden days year and then a bus came along and she did a double take. For the record, Lanagan said she wanted to set it right on the cusp of technology. She also wanted the setting to be remote but not completely removed from our normal world so we could relate to it in some way. The actual time period is somewhere around the turn of the century. The audience member also asked about the witch character (Misskaella), because she seems to outlive a lot of people. To that, the author said, "There's just something about evil, isn't there?"
After the event, while I was waiting in the signing line, Lanagan spoke with two other readers about selkie stories and like the creep I am, I totally eavesdropped. They had a discussion about how popular some topics are in young adult literature--mermaids and angels, for example, but that selkie stories represented a far smaller slice of the genre. One reader suggested that might be because selkie lore is not as well known in the United States as it is in Ireland, Scotland, and the like, though Lanagan mentioned that it is more well-known in fisherman communities from Maine upwards to Newfoundland and other Canadian provinces. She also said, and I found this particularly interesting, that she wanted to write a particular kind of selkie story. Angel stories are often viewed as overly sentimental and she liked that there is an underpinning of unhappiness in selkie lore. Though I don't have notes for this conversation, what I understood Lanagan to be saying (and what is evident in the stories she does choose to write) is that she is less inclined to write fanciful, happy books.