Sarah Gailey came onto the scene in 2015 and has since become one of the sharpest, funniest voices in pop culture online. They are a regular contributor to multiple websites, including Tor.com. Their nonfiction has appeared in Mashable and The Boston Globe. They have been nominated for the Nebula, Locus & John W. Campbell awards and have won a Hugo award. They are the author of River of Teeth, Taste of Marrow, and last year’s excellent Magic For Liars, about which they talked with Daryl in 2019. Their new novella is Upright Women Wanted, and they recently agreed to talk about it with with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for Upright Women Wanted?
Upright Women Wanted was inspired by real history: during the Great Depression, the Pack Horse Library Initiative was developed to send librarians with books into parts of Appalachia that didn’t have access to reading material. When I read about that, I knew I had to write about it, and the story naturally took shape.
How did the novella evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?
The biggest evolution of this novella was in Esther’s relationship to Cye.
Some spoilers ahead...In early drafts, Esther felt too conflicted by her attraction to Cye to ever act on it or even acknowledge it. She was grieving and also repressed, and she didn’t know how to chew on this attraction that she thought she wasn’t allowed to have. It was complex and realistic but in no way satisfying. The story I was trying to write about queer hope and joy was lacking in actual queer hope and joy. I questioned whether or not it would be appropriate to change that, to let Esther and Cye have some real heat between them given their circumstances—but in the end, I realized that I wanted my readers to end this book with a full heart.
River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow are both variations on Western tropes, as is Upright Women Wanted. What is it about the Western genre that appeals to you?
I love the form of the Western, the grit and determination and language and alienation. And I often hate the content, which erases so many parts of the world in favor of a narrative of white guys gritting their teeth at things. There’s a sense of adventure, lawlessness, rebellion, and survival that belongs to Westerns, and that kind of story belongs to the people Westerns most often erase, belittle, or murder. It’s always felt to me like Westerns are bending over backward to try to reinforce existing systems, but I love getting to step into that narrative style and do the things that the story really wants.
Is Upright Women Wanted a standalone novella or might there be other stories about the librarians in the future?
I don’t currently have any plans for additional stories in this universe, but I’ll never close that door, and as always: I strongly encourage fanfiction.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
Right now I’m reading The Mermaid, The Witch, and the Sea, an upcoming YA novel by Maggie Tokuda-Hall. It’s phenomenal; I can’t recommend it highly enough.
What are you working on now?
I’m just finishing up edits on The Echo Wife, my second adult novel! It’s a science fiction novel about clones, betrayal, identity, and (of course) murder, coming out in early 2021 from Tor books.