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WesternSFA
Kelly McCullough
by Chris Paige
Photo copyright Matthew A Kuchta

Kelly McCullough is the author of the WebMage series, which brings together Mythology and computer hacking.

Ravirn juggles his mundane life as a grad student with pulling off supernatural hacks for gods and goddesses, assisted by the webgoblin Melchior. Their success wins the undying enmity of Hades, and riles up the Fates as well. This series features Eris, the goddess of Discord, as a feminine Trickster deity. The SF genre has many splendid anti-heroes, but few anti-heroines of note. I rank Eris right up there with E. E. “Doc” Smith’s DuQuesne, Avon of Blake’s 7, and Mollari of Babylon 5 as one of the great villains-who’s-not-quite-a-villain of all time. Then there’s the ongoing Fallen Blade series, which is high fantasy and whose protagonist, Aral Kingslayer, is an assassin in the service of Justice. There’s just one catch: the goddess of Justice has been murdered, and almost all her Blades been hunted down, captured, and killed or co-opted.  Aral and his familiar have an array of enemies, including former Blades, cruelly decadent rulers, undead, the city guard, and anyone who wants to collect the bounty on his head. But Aral also has friends in odd places, and he is the best Blade to be goddess-forged in 200 years.

In addition, McCullough has written numerous short stories, available for free at his website, showing his range of interests: space exploration and the development of a strong space program; Norse Mythology, humor, puns, and urban fantasy that is at once grittier, more somber, and much more magical than any of the novels about sexy undead/shapechangers. Check ‘em out, and share them.

Kelly McCullough’s publications:

  School For Sidekicks: The Totally Secret Origin of Foxman Jr.

  (Feiwel and Friends—Forthcoming 2014)

  The Fallen Blade Series (Penguin/ACE):

  Broken Blade

  Bared Blade

  Crossed Blades

  Blade Reforged (Summer 2013)

  Drawn Blades (Forthcoming 2014)

  Darkened Blade (Forthcoming 2015)

  The WebMage Series (Penguin/ACE):

  WebMage

  Cybermancy

  Codespell

  MythOS

  SpellCrash

Kelly McCullough’s short stories can be found at

  http://www.kellymccullough.com

  http://www.wyrdsmiths.blogspot.com

> 1.    The name: where does the name Kelly McCullough come from? What emigrations and echoes of family history?

My ancestors ran back and forth between Scotland and Ireland depending on who they were feuding with at any given time. That's where the McCullough comes from. The Kelly comes from the T.V. series I SPY, or so I am told. The Scottish connection is the one I tend to emphasize, and my wife and I were married just outside of Edinburgh in a lovely little registry office in an old library in Leith .

> 2.    What were your favorite books growing up?

I've been a fan of fantasy and science as long as I can remember. My mother read me Lord of the Rings, and Asimov's Foundation, and Shakespeare in the cradle, as they quieted me down from before I learned to speak. I loved the dragons of Pern, and McKillip's Riddlemasters, and all of Zelazny. Niven, and Norton, and Asprin were favorites in their time. Later, I fell in love with the work of Tim Powers and Terry Pratchett and Mercedes Lackey.

> 3.    I have all five Webmage and Blade books.  But they are all paperback! Is there any hope of hardback editions?

Not at the moment. I'm rather hoping that the Science Fiction Book Club hardcover omnibus edition of the first three books of Fallen Blade will do incredibly well, and that we will want to do a one or two volume WebMage, but that's hope, not a solid lead.

> 4.    The projected titles for books 5 and 6 of the Blade series are Drawn Blades and Darkened Blade. That last sounds ominous, and not in a good way. What terrible things have you in store for Aral and his friends?

I really can't really talk about it without throwing in a rather major series spoiler. What I can say is that Aral is forced to make a decision that is a natural consequence of his ongoing recovery and his growing sense of responsibility to the ideal of justice and carrying on the work that Namara trained him for.

> 5.    Will number 6 be the end of the series?

I don't actually know at this point. The end of book six is the third of the four places I built into the structure of the overarching story as a potential end point. I've got a nine book arc plotted out, and if sales are good I will do the whole run, but, publishing being the sort of business it is, I've always had multiple points at which I could leave my readers with a sense that the story was complete.

> 6.    There’s a symbiotic relationship between Blades and their shades, the magical creatures that help make Blades so elusive; and once the bond is forged, death for one seems to entail death for the other. Is there no alternative? No exception?

No exceptions. Soul bonding is one of my baseline worldbuilding principles for the series and applies across all the different mage and familiar lines. It's one of the many reasons that it's better to have an elemental as your familiar than a hamster.

> 7.    Have there been comparisons to the Companions of Valdemar and the Dragons of Pern? Or are you harkening back to the older magics of familiars?

I was primarily aiming at evoking the older archetypical idea of the familiar, but certainly Lackey and McCaffrey are both part of my writing DNA.

> 8.    You are part of Wyrdsmiths, a writers’ group, and have acknowledged many of your co-members. What are some of their novels, short stories, etc. you would recommend to readers?

It's always dangerous to try to do that, because I will inevitably forget something, and I'd rather not give anyone reason to feel left out, but here goes. Doug Hulick's Among Thieves is a great start for anyone who likes my Blade books. Lyda Morehouse/Tate Hallaway's Precinct 13 is a wonderful fun read in the urban fantasy genre and a natural for WebMage fans. Naomi Kritzer's Fires of the Faithful/Turning the Storm duology is a great read, and she's had some really fantastic short stories come out recently. Everything that Eleanor Arnason writes is marvelous, but my absolute favorite of hers is the short story “The Grammarian's Five Daughters”, and “Mammoths of the Great Plains ” is simply splendid. Adam Stemple has a great new series that he's writing with his mother Jane Yolen that just started coming out with The Hostage Prince.

> 9.    Do you put each other into your fiction, in cameo roles or the like?

Actually, I can't think of a single instance, which seems odd now that you ask.

> 10.    You dedicate your stories to your wife, Laura. How did the two of you meet?

At the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. She was a patron, I was a street performer. I saw her across a crowded field and it was pretty much love at first sight. It took me a little while to work out what to say to her and work up the courage to say it, but eventually I handed her a rose, said, "You need this," and walked away. Then I found her again later and got her phone number and we've been together ever since. That was in September of '89.

> 11.    How would you describe the world of the Urbana ?

I wanted to invent a new urban mythology, and I wanted to build it out of my experiences with the city as a country kid who moved into the big city at the age of seven. For a seven-year-old there's a lot of magic in a city. It's in the graffiti, and the neon, and even the plastic bags blowing around the streets. So, I started with the premise that cold iron destroyed the fey, but not the magic that lived on. Given that, and urbanization, and what I was seeing in the streets, what evolves to fill the ecological niche the faerie used to occupy? The Urbana are my answer to that question. Because they're so young by the standards of magic, they're rawer and more elemental than the traditional denizens of faerie.

> 12.    Have other Wyrdsmiths written stories set in that world too?

No, though a number of folks from various writers groups that I've worked with have expressed a strong interest in writing Urbana stories. I'm hoping that the Urbana novel will sell at some point and make a good launching point for doing a shared world anthology.

> 13.    “Dying Season” is one of the most haunting, unforgettable stories I have ever read. Now every time I see a loose plastic bag on the street or against a fence I think of Skitter. It radically altered how I view the city around me. Why are the muses so determined to keep magic relevant?

That's exactly the reaction I was hoping for with the Urbana stories; so, thank you. I wanted people to see what I saw when I looked for city magic. I wanted it to change how people see the city around them. As a writer, a lot of time the impulse that drives me to tell a story is that moment where I see something in a way that maybe nobody else ever has, in a way that alters how I see the world. I think a lot of art is about that magic of altered perception and trying to bring others into the world of our dreams. Relevance is the coin of the realm.

> 14.    On the other hand, “FimbulDinner: The Last Supper” is hilarious. Good slapstick is a rarity nowadays. What are some of your favorite comedies?

The Goblin Hero books by Jim Hines are marvelous, and I love pretty much everything that Terry Pratchett has ever written. When I was younger I loved Robert Aspirin's Myth books, though I haven't read them recently enough to see how they stand up to an adult reader. Likewise Bill the Galactic Hero. At thirteen, I thought the world of the first couple of Xanth books, but when I went back and took a look at them in my twenties, not so much. There are also a lot of books that have strong humorous elements that I love, like Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan books, and Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest books.

> 15.    Another of your short stories, “The Wyrm OrBoreUS” is a favorite with my SF Literature students. Were you at least nominated for an award for that one? I cannot @#$% believe that you haven’t won a string of Hugos!

Not a one, and while I do appreciate the sentiment, and would be delighted to have a string of Hugos, I'm fundamentally okay with that. What I want to do with my life is tell stories, and so far, the project is going pretty well. Awards are lovely and shiny and all that, but I'm more interested in just getting my work in front of readers in a way that lets me focus on storytelling. As long as I keep getting to do that, I'm winning the biggest prize of them all.

> 16.    What can you reveal about the upcoming School for Sidekicks? Is this a new series?

School for Sidekicks is my first novel for kids. The book is a humorous adventure novel about a kid who wants to be a superhero but ends up at the school for sidekicks. I started out from the premise that no one sets out to be the sidekick, but not everyone gets to be the hero. It's aimed at middle grade readers, but I hope that many of my adult readers will enjoy it as well. It's coming out from Feiwel and Friends, which is associated with Macmillan, and it's my first project with them, so I'm not exactly sure where we're going next. There's been some discussion of doing a series, but we've also talked about doing a number of books that each stand on their own in separate universes. I imagine I'll know more sometime next year.

> 17.    Going back to your first series, Webmage, I love the way it ended, but… have any stories in that ‘verse presented themselves to your mind since? (C’mon, Eris is sooooo… um, so Eris. So feline!)

I have the core of a sixth book tucked away in bits and piece on my hard drive and in the back of my head. Some day, when I've got some time, or if the demand suddenly goes up, maybe I'll get to write it.

> 18.    In MythOS, 4th of that series, your protagonist visits the realm of Norse mythology, and gets to shake things up a bit so events are less predetermined and inexorable. Has that novel resonated with many of your readers?

I've gotten a few great fan letters about that book, but none of them have really focused on that. It's certainly the main reason I wrote it—Ragnarok pisses me off—but it doesn't seem to be a big focus for most of my WebMage readers.

> 19.    Not so much an interview question as a recommendation: Are you aware of Sassafrass, the a capella singers who have set the Odin-Loki saga to music? They performed at the recent WorldCon in San Antonio , and they were wonderful!

I'm afraid that I've never heard of them until now, but I'll definitely check them out.

> 20.    What are The Chronicles of the Wandering Star and Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp?

The Chronicles of the Wandering Star is a sort of illustrated serial novel made up of linked short stories designed to help middle school students learn physics and physical chemistry. It was written as part a National Science Foundation funded curriculum development project called Constructing Ideas in Physical Science. It's also something of an orphan, as the project, which had originally been designed around the idea of a science fictional context to help draw students in, changed its focus for the final version to a more traditional style.

Hanny and the Mystery of the Voorwerp is a science comic built around a very cool astronomical discovery made by a teacher named Hanny who was working with the Galaxy Zoo project—a crowd-sourced research project identifying galaxies by type. The comic, which was funded by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope, is about Hanny's discovery and the nature of science and inquiry; it's designed to teach kids about how science works and that anyone can do science. I was one of the writers and co-edited the project with the marvelous Dr. Pamela Gay. It's available online in PDF form for free.

> 21.    Will you be attending any conventions in 2013-2014?

CONvergence, in July 2014 almost certainly. Other than that, I'm not currently booked for anything, though that's subject to change if the whim takes me.

> Thank-you for taking this interview. I am hoping some of our readers decide to look up your books, and I really hope you get a Hugo! 

It's been my pleasure, and thank you for the award wishes. It would certainly look lovely on the mantlepiece.

Cheers,
Kelly

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