Award-winning SFF author Cadwell Turnbull joins us on the podcast this week to discuss his latest novel, No Gods, No Monsters. Cadwell talks to us about writing character-driven Sci-Fi Fantasy, incorporating real-life events and intersectionality into his work, and the challenges of writing novels from multiple perspectives.
- Cadwell tells us how No Gods, No Monsters came to be, and he explains how both Caribbean folklore and Buffy the Vampire Slayer influenced his latest work
- He talks to us about the monsters in his novel, why he likes to create sympathetic stories for “evil” characters, and what visual tools he uses when creating them
- Cadwell discusses writing characters with different identities and gender identities outside his experience, how he approached writing these characters, and why it was important for him to create fully developed characters who exist beyond these identities
- He tells us about his research and writing process, how he incorporated his research “rabbit holes” into the novel, and how his plans for the story evolved through each stage of the writing process
- Cadwell discusses the narrator of I, how this character was influenced by Cadwell’s own interest in linguistics and narrative authority, and he talks to us about the challenges of writing from different perspectives
- No Gods, No Monsters is the first novel in The Convergence Saga, and Cadwell talks to us about building a series, and why his planning and plotting keeps shifting as he moves through the writing process
Follow Cadwell on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
No Gods, No Monsters
No Gods, No Monsters audiobook
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or on Disney+)
Broken Earth Trilogy
The Left Hand of Darkness
Story of Your Life to Arrival
The Murderbot Diaries
Light from Uncommon Stars
Cadwell Turnbull is the author of The Lesson and No Gods, No Monsters. His short fiction has appeared in The Verge, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Asimov’s Science Fiction and several anthologies, including The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018 and The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019. His novel The Lesson was the winner of the 2020 Neukom Institute Literary Award in the debut category. The novel was also shortlisted for the VCU Cabell Award and longlisted for the Massachusetts Book Award. Turnbull lives in Raleigh and teaches at North Carolina State University.
Transcription provided be Speechpad
Joni: Hey, writers. You’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast,” where we bring you insights and inspirations for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts, I’m Joni, author engagement specialist at Kobo Writing Life.
Rachel: And I’m Rachel, author engagement coordinator at Kobo Writing Life. Today on the podcast, Joni and Laura spoke to award-winning sci-fi fantasy author, Cadwell Turnbull about his new novel, “No Gods, No Monsters.” I was really bummed to miss out on this chat because I love science-fiction and fantasy, and I’m so excited to listen to this conversation.
Joni: Rachel, I was very sad that you were not cohosting. Much as I love Laura, this was exactly your kind of book. Cadwell was a fantastic guest. He was so lovely and he had so much to say about writing sci-fi. He talked about being influenced by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which if you are a regular podcast listener…
Rachel: And I missed it.
Joni: …you will know this is Rachel’s special topic of interest. But yeah, it was awesome. I’m excited for you to hear it, too. We haven’t talked to a lot of sci-fi authors on the show so it was great to get that perspective. And the other thing that I just wanna give a heads up for is that I think the audio quality is not as good as it normally is. I think our Zoom was a little bit glitchy so hopefully it’s gonna come through okay in the edit. But if not, just please know that we always provide a transcript on our blog so that is also an option. We hope you enjoy the interview. We are here today with Cadwell Turnbull. Thank you so much for joining us.
Cadwell: Thank you for having me.
Joni: Before we get into it, could you start by introducing yourself a little for our listeners and telling us about the kind of books that you write?
Cadwell: All right, yeah. So yeah, I’m Cadwell Turnbull. I’m a science-fiction author. I write short fiction. Some of my short stories have been in a number of speculative magazines, like “Speed,” “Asimov’s,” “Nightmare.” I also write novels. My second novel, “No Gods, No Monsters,” came out a month and a day ago, and it’s about monsters coming out into the world and making themselves known, and what that does to society, in particular, this group of characters that the story follows. And my first book, my debut novel, “The Lesson,” was published in 2019 and it was a sci-fi, first-contact novel set in the U.S. Virgin Islands where I grew up, and follows a group of characters, three families dealing with the arrival of the Ynaa and the aftermath of their arrival.
Laura: And can you tell us a little bit about how the concept for “No Gods, No Monsters,” kind of, came to be?
Cadwell: Right. So after working on “The Lesson” for several years, it was, like, seven years, I was thinking about what I would wanna do next. And I’d been reading a lot of urban fantasy with my wife and realized or remembered that I was a huge fan of urban fantasy TV. When I was a kid growing up, my favorite shows were “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Angel,” and I would watch tons of “Charmed” reruns. And so it seemed to me a really good genre to try and see how that would work out. And so I started mapping out what the story might be like, and then it just grew and grew. And I pitched it to my publisher and it was kinda, not smooth sailing, but writing from there.
Joni: Our coworker, Rachel, it is a point of contention. She loves “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” like, loves, loves, loves it, and she’s very upset that the rest of our team haven’t watched it. So I’m asking this for Rachel because she will wanna know, but in what way was “Buffy” instrumental in being an inspiration for this book?
Cadwell: Right, yeah. I thought you were gonna say that she loved “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” but hated “Angel” and I was gonna just..
Joni: I don’t think so. I think she loves the whole thing.
Cadwell: I’ve heard that before. Okay. So I don’t know, when I was watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” I thought a lot about…there was a character that showed up in, I think, season two that was another slayer from another part of the world and she sounded Jamaican. I think she was Jamaican, and her name was Kendra, and she showed up for a couple episodes and then, spoiler, died. And I was so bummed out by that that I thought about what it would be like to have something, a similar story set where I’m from in Caribbean.
The reason why I’m not sure if she was Jamaican is because she had a really bad accent. It was the best attempt at Jamaican. I think it was Jamaican, though. And so thinking about that, I think that “No Gods, No Monsters,” when I started working on it, I knew that I wanted to have monsters and people related to monsters within a Caribbean context. And creating monsters out of Caribbean folklore, I thought, would be a fun challenge.
Joni: Something that’s interesting about your monsters, and I suspect that this is also, kind of, maybe relates to “Buffy,” is that none of them are evil, right? They’re very rounded characters, and there’s a lot of empathy. And you feel a lot of sympathy for the monsters and a lot of…like, they are rounded characters. They’re not evil and that’s not really the point of it. You said that a lot of them came from Caribbean mythology. Is that a deviation from monsters in stories, like, making them not necessarily bad?
Cadwell: Yeah, the monsters in Caribbean stories are evil. There’s a soucouyant in the story, and usually soucouyants are bad. Jumbees are bad. The host of monsters that we have throughout the islands, and they go by different names depending on where you are, are the kinds of, you know, like, everywhere, the subject of scary stories are things to scare your children, in this case, me. The weredog in the book is inspired by stories that I heard from my aunt growing up when the power was out. And so yeah, they usually are bad, but my first story writing about a Caribbean monster was a sympathetic one. And I wanted to continue to do that, because I thought that…one of the things I do when I watch horror movies, in order to help me finish them and not have nightmares after is I try to imagine a sympathetic story for why they’re doing what they’re doing, or what happened to them, and imagining what the trauma might have been to create the monster.
And so when I started writing about monsters in fiction I think that I naturally did. I just thought it would be better than creating…I don’t know. I feel like I’m not very good at creating just evil things. I always wanna understand why the evil is happening, and so I decided to do that.
Joni: It’s a lot. It gives it a lot more depth because I don’t think there is a lot of just evil. I think that what you’re saying is much more accurate to real life.
Cadwell: Appreciate that, yeah. And the monsters in the book aren’t evil at all. They’re actually the good guys for the most part. Some of them are evil, but we’ll get into more of that in the coming books.
Laura: Yeah. For the monsters themselves, did you have any kind of visual representation for them, like any drawings or anything? Or did you just kind of picture them in your head?
Cadwell: I used to draw a lot, but no. I think I do visualize them in my mind. I don’t draw as much as I used to so it didn’t come to that. There’s a character in the book that is a witch that has powers through her tattoos, her tattoos are magical. And I envisioned her a lot. I can picture what…there’s a little, young child called the [inaudible 00:07:44] with black tendrils, and I can picture that in my mind as well. I can picture Dragon in my mind, Dragon shapeshifter. I can definitely, definitely picture [inaudible 00:07:55]. It’s kind of like this god that shows up and looks at things, and looks at the universe. But yeah, no drawings.
Laura: And one of the most distinctive qualities of “No Gods, No Monsters” is also the multiple narrative structure. You write from different points of view. Was that ever hard to keep track of? Or was it challenging to write from different perspectives?
Cadwell: Yes and no. So “The Lesson” is similar. “The Lesson” actually has more [inaudible 00:08:25] than “No Gods.” “The Lesson” has nine and “No Gods” has seven. But my brain naturally does this. When I was working on “The Lesson,” I didn’t know what it was to begin with. It was first a story in the world, and some other writers have talked about test stories for books and stuff like that. But I didn’t know it was a novel at that time. I just was exploring this concept that I thought was really interesting, and had a dream about it. And I wanted to bring that dream to life and put it within the Caribbean context because it was set in some suburb somewhere. Aliens had showed up and integrated into the community there. So I was like, “What if this was in the Virgin Islands?”
And so that first story just got me interested in the world, and so I write, like, “Okay, this character has a sister. What’s going on with the sister? This character has a grandmother. What’s going on with the grandmother?” And over time, I would say about 1/3 in, I started recognizing a pattern of story, like an over-arching arc to the narrative and where it was going. And then, about 2/3 in, I could visualize enough of it that I could map out the whole thing. And then after that it was just, like, finishing that arc and then making all the connections to make it cohesive.
And so “The Lesson” was kind of like a discovery as I was doing it. “No Gods” was a more intentional approach to that.” I had fallen in love with the structure of “The Lesson” and so I wanted to do it in an intentional way and build a series off of it. And so I mapped out all of the different characters and how they would relate, and one of the things I really wanted to do was make sure that the relationship between each section was really strong, like you could follow it logically. I also wanted it to be a bit more plotty. It was something intentional based on something that I had stumbled upon, and because it was more intentional I had to do more work to make it work better. My whole goal was to try to make it work as well as I could, and that took a lot of time, and energy, and thinking, and vision, and that sort of thing. So it was easy because my brain works that way, but hard because it’s hard to do.
Joni: It seems hard to do. It’s beautifully woven together, but all of the different parts, like a mosaic almost, making a picture of it makes sense.
Cadwell: Right, yeah. One of my favorite novels recently was “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, and I just recently read “The Glass Hotel.” And when I read that book I was so, so happy, and the reason I read it was because someone had made a comparison with “The Lesson.” They were like, “This reminds me of this.” And I was like, “Oh, what is this?” And so I looked it up and she has a similar mosaic structure to her books, and because I saw that somewhere else and I thought the book was just incredible, I felt like I just had more license to do it. It was like, “Okay, this is a structure that can work for a story. It does something different than a single protagonist novel. I want to use it to the best of its ability,” try to make it work as well as I could.
Joni: That’s awesome. I think it works really, really well. You’re exploring a lot of different identities and gender identities. Did you find that challenging to write from identities that weren’t yours, and did you speak to people? And how did you approach it from a writer’s perspective?
Cadwell: It was really challenging. There was two approaches that I did. So one of the things that I did was I did talk to a lot of people. And so I interviewed…I mean, in “The Lesson” I didn’t interview anybody. I kind of wrote a lot from my own experience and then I did a lot of research. But for “No Gods, No Monsters,” I read a lot, I pulled a lot from myself and my imagination, and I talked to a lot of people to do these different characters justice. One of the things that I really wanted to do, it was a challenge that I set out for myself, was to write about people that were very, very different from me. I do that in “The Lesson,” but they all are from the Virgin Islands.
And so I wanted to branch out a little bit and write about characters that had different contexts, both place but also identity context. And because I had that in mind, I talked to people to try to understand a lot of these different contexts, and get a sense of what they like in fiction in how they are represented, and what they don’t like about how they are represented. And also things that might not be so obvious to someone from the outside, thinking about how to be in a particular skin. I talked to someone that was ace, and they told me stuff about how they experienced an identity in the world, how they experienced it in media, how they feel about that media, when they feel like it’s been done well, when they feel like it’s been done poorly. And I tried to integrate that into the story. I tried to not do things that were annoying, and also tried to incorporate some of the things that I learned through those conversations.
The other thing I tried to do was not make that the only thing about them, you know what I mean? So one of the things that was really important to me when I was writing “The Lesson” was to write people that were from the Virgin Islands but not make it about the fact…the only thing about them is the fact that they’re from the Virgin Islands and they’re Black. I wanted them to be exist in a lot of different ways and a lot of different facets, have interests, have hobbies, have passions that were independent of place, or specific to themselves and different from the people around them.
I was trying to do that with “No Gods, No Monsters,” just have…there’s a character in the story, his name is Ridley and he’s interested in woodcarving. There’s another character that’s a bee scientist. So I wanted those people to have their identities and also have other things about them that they were really passionate about and care about that are a big part of their identity as well, besides just the ways that they identify or might be marginalized.
Joni: I feel like typically sci-fi and fantasy is very, very plot driven, and I feel like your writing is very character driven. Do you feel like that in the world of sci-fi, fantasy? Do you feel like that’s something that maybe isn’t as well developed characterization-wise?
Cadwell: Yeah, I wonder. I feel like such good company now. I feel like a lot of work in modern spec is very character focused, and I think a lot about the…but it was something that I didn’t know was true until other people said it, because I read a lot of genre and I’m a fan of a wide range of genre. One of my favorite series with my wife, we read it together, is Patricia Briggs, “Mercy Thompson” series is one of them. “Faith Hunter,” “Soulwood” series is another, which I would say are very plotty. They’re plot focused but they also do excellent characterization. There’s a lot of really great craft that goes into how [inaudible 00:15:30].
But I find that when I try to write genre stories I get fixated on character stuff, you know? I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Actually, that’s what gets me what gets me excited about writing. But I feel like the balance of it might be slightly different than what someone might expect, coming into it expecting a commercial first-contact story. So if they’re coming in thinking, “This is gonna be a first-contact story where the aliens are heavily featured,” that might be disappointing to them because they are, the aliens are heavily featured, but this character study is on aliens and not their technology, or their bodily systems, or the experience of traveling through the galaxy. I tend to focus on, what are the aliens thinking and feeling, and what that says about some thematic concern.
And that’s the same things with “No Gods, No Monsters.” If you expect the werewolf packs to be running around and fighting big bads, that’s not what’s going on. They’re kind of, like, thinking and feeling things, and having conversations, and exploring their own trauma. And that’s just something that I find interesting to do.
Joni: Yeah, that’s something that I really liked about it. So the book kicks off with this, kind of, catalyst event that brings all of these societal issues into the forefront for the characters, and it’s very much a metaphor for real-world events. How did you find the experience of writing through the lens of looking at the supernatural?
Cadwell: Right. So I think part of it was, and it’s interesting because I definitely think that, despite the fact that I kind of inhabit some weird space within spec, this is coming from how people talk about the work. I come from it from a very spec-y perspective, so I’m looking at…I start with thinking about the monsters and then I start pulling in character stuff. I just start moving the dial over, if that makes sense. And so I started out just thinking about, “Well, if monsters existed in the world, what would they be like?” And then I started thinking about, “How would they be different from each other?”
So I definitely see the monster part of these characters’ identity as an intersectional one, so it’s like monster and queer, or monsters and Black, monsters and poor. And so I try to imagine, “Well, if you are in those contexts, if you are a vulnerable person and you turn into a werewolf, how might that be different than if you have privilege and turn into a werewolf? What would be the difference in context?” And so the story, kind of, hinges on a werewolf that is found on the street and is in werewolf form and is shot because he appears threatening, but he turns back into a Black man.
I was thinking, “Well, if there is a way that monsters would become visible in the world it would be through a vulnerable monster, like one that isn’t able to hide themselves because they don’t have as many resources to hide.” And so it seemed pretty clear to me pretty early on that it would be something like, basically, it would be video footage, and it would be a moment of contact between these two worlds, right? And so I was thinking about it and drawing it from police brutality, became a pretty obvious connection to me. While I was working on the book we were having protests in the U.S. related to a slew of high-profile officer-involved shootings.
When I was thinking about the book there another slew of officer-involved shootings. It kinda happens every few years, there’s a few that get really big in the public consciousness. And during that earlier slew, I was in grad school and I was online a lot more than I should’ve been. I think I was avoiding schoolwork, and trying to talk to people about what was going on, and trying to see if I could reason with them and help them to understand why this was a problem and why this was representative of systems and not just a single act. And it was both illuminating and frustrating, those conversations. I don’t do that anymore because it was a lot, but it made its way into my writing in this form.
Laura: How did the story, kind of, change as you wrote? Did you have an idea of what each character’s journey would be like? Or did that, kind of, change as you went along?
Cadwell: It changed, because I actually had characters that were just named different. They just had different names. And as I did research and I talked to people specifically, characters, their backgrounds would change, their interests would change. All of these things about them would change that would affect how the story would change for them. There’s a character in the story and her name is Karuna Flood, very interesting, and super important and special to me, but she started out as Katherine. And as I learned more about her through talking to people, I had a friend that I talked to him about growing up in Ireland in a small town and that got incorporated. My wife is from Nepal and some of that stuff got incorporated as well, and then some of her interests folded into the story.
I started reading a lot about social organization and there was an academic that I was following. I was reading entire articles from this writer talking about…interestingly, he was talking about cooperatives, and he was also talking about secret organizations you know, different kinds, so talking about criminal organizations and also secret societies, that sort of thing, and in this sub-category of sociology called social organization. And got really interested in that and wanted to incorporate some of that into the story. And so Karuna became a scholar of this particular sub-field of sociology. And so her arc changed the more I knew about her. And then other characters were very similar. I think another example would be, the more I knew about Dragon, his arc changed. He became more central to the series as I learned more about him, Ridley as well.
Joni: Dragon was a really interesting character for me. I think he was the one I felt most emotional about.
Cadwell: He’s so vulnerable, right?
Joni: He’s very vulnerable.
Cadwell: Also cool, and just already has a very…in a lot of ways he doesn’t know anything but he’s so quick to understand things about the world. He’s very perceptive, and yeah, I love Dragon, too. He’s one of my favorites.
Joni: And how much do you have the whole trilogy worked out in your head? Do you anticipate it changing a lot as you go, or is that a hard question?
Cadwell: Well, it’s not hard. I think that changes over time. So I felt like I knew a lot about the series, but now I’m working on the second book and things are kind of shifting. It happens that way. So I mapped out “No Gods, No Monsters,” this first book, and then as I was working on the book I’d go back and I’d look at the re-outlines of these sections. As I said, their names are different and their arcs are a little different, so that changed. And then characters like Dragon became more important, and so that carries through the rest of the books, really becomes more important, the characters to the rest of the books.
And so now that I’m working on the second book some things are shifting again because I’m understanding more. It’s different to outline something in your head, and then it’s different when you outline it on the page, and it’s different when you actually draft your outlines. There’s just a little bit of a drift that happens each time. And so I would say generally I know everything that’s gonna happen, but then once I start writing I discover things all the time, and then things kind of shift a little bit.
Joni: Can you talk to us a little bit about your narrator in the book? Because that was a really interesting character. What is his role in the story and how did he come to be?
Cadwell: Yeah, I have a long answer. Do you want the long answer?
Joni: Yes, please.
Cadwell: Okay, I’ll just talk.
Joni: I’d love it.
Cadwell: So Cal is a very important character to me but he wasn’t always a part of the story, or he wasn’t always explicitly as important to the story. He also drifted. I’d been working on him for a while. He’s a character that has shown up in other stories, only one of the stories that have been published. And the reason he exists is because I was thinking a lot, and this was grad school stuff. This was really weird, academic-y weirdness.
So when I was working on my fiction degree, my MFA, I also got really interested in linguistics. I took some courses at my university. I ended up pursuing a degree in linguistics as well because I felt like I convinced myself I needed to to help me do justice to writing about Virgin Islands in “The Lesson.” I wanted the language in “The Lesson” to be not just accurate. I didn’t wanna take for granted that I knew how people in the Virgin Islands would talk. They have a particular variety of English. It’s like [inaudible 00:24:51] dialect.
But I also wanted it to feel right in how people shifted between the vernacular and more standard varieties. And then I got really interested in narrative authority, and how stories typically, if they’re in third person, have a standard speaker at the helm. The narrator speaks in a standard variety and I wanted to complicate that by having a narrator that would have omniscient qualities but speak in a vernacular, reference the [inaudible 00:25:24] dialect, and Cal came out of that.
And then a lot of personal things went into Cal. I think he’s one characters that’s, in some ways, closest to me, or borrowed more closely from me. And then it just kind of grew, and grew, and grew from there. It’s like, what if Cal tells this story? And what if Cal tells this story? And because I was bringing in all of these gods, Cal has a relationship to one of the gods that I know from earlier stories, and so that became a lynchpin within this project as well. He’s not the only one, but he’s one of the important characters that drifted from this larger cosmology that I’ve been playing with for a long time into this story. I hope that makes sense. Did that make sense?
Joni: Yes, it did. It was really, really cool. I love how many almost rabbit holes it seems like you go down with your writing. You’ve got so many different things are encompassed in this book. You talk about secret societies, and then you’ve got the physics stuff, and there’s so much. Was there a lot of research?
Cadwell: Yeah. Some of it, like the Cal section, “Other Worlds Than This One,” is actually pulled from a publication. That section was the part of the story that had existed before the novel and was not originally going to be in the book. I was just going to tell this later version of Cal who’s a little older, and a little bit more weary, and distracted, and distant from his own life. And then it seemed really important that he needed his origin story, and “Other Worlds Than This One” is his origin story. So I brought that into the story.
And so when I was working on that particular story, I did a lot of research on quantum physics and quantum mechanics. I did a lot of reading on Hugh Everett in particular to explain how Cal is moving between between, spoiler, universes. And so that became a part of the book as I was working on it. The secret society stuff was fairly recent. When I started working on “No Gods, No Monsters,” I just fell down some rabbit holes. I read academic papers on social organization and that became a part of the book. I was talking to this one person about bee science, that became a part of the book. A lot of the stuff I had outlined had already been in the outline so I knew that Cal was gonna be some kind of scientist. I just didn’t know what he was. And then I discovered it and it became a part of the book. And so it’s kind of like I kinda stumble upon things and then I incorporate them.
Laura: Yeah, like Joni said, there’s a little bit of everything going on, definitely lots of little rabbit holes, but it all kind of flows together really well. It’s pretty cohesive and it never takes you out of the story, so I think that’s really well done.
Cadwell: Appreciate it. One of the things that I try to do, despite the fact that I’m all over the place is, if I find something that feels like it has thematic value, like I feel like it is in conversation with something else, I’ll bring it in. It’s not just, like, anything. It does have to have some kind of resonance. And the whole book is about things mirroring each other, and things having echoes of each other. And so when I was having this conversation with the bee scientist and he was talking about emergent bee configurations, I was like, “Oh, this kind of reminds me of social systems and how they emerge.” And so I brought that in.
Joni: I feel like publishing really wants to categorize books and put them with, like, “This is the genre, these are the sub-genres, these are the keywords.” Do you feel like that’s changing a little bit in terms of…where do you feel like your book fits into things? I feel like it crosses genre a little, is what I’m trying to say, and I’m interested in whether…I feel like publishing is doing that generally. Books are getting more all-encompassing and that’s something we’re seeing a lot in the indie world.
Cadwell: Right, yeah. Honestly, I think that is true. I think that is happening and I’m excited about it. And I’m glad that it’s happening because I don’t know if “No Gods, No Monsters” would’ve…and there was some scratching of heads. So I pitched it as a certain thing and that seemed pretty clear, and then I turned in a draft of it and there was a moment where I could see my editor, kind of, “What,” and kind of adjusting a little bit, like, “This is a lot weirder than I thought based on the pitch.” But I think that it’s great to have a publisher like Blackstone. It’s an indie publisher that’s willing to, despite scratching their head a little bit, roll with it and be like, “Okay, you discovered some things as he was working on this,” and let it be.
And this is the way that I engage with the media anyway. I tend to draw from a lot of places at once and I get really excited about media that’s doing more than one thing, incorporating multiple different kinds of speculative and real-world elements at once. To me, that’s very excited. So yeah, I do think it’s happening and I’m glad it’s happening.
Joni: So am I. I think it makes things a lot more interesting and I think it leads people to read books that they might not otherwise because people get into this, “Oh, well, I like these kind of books.” So I think it’s cool to, I don’t know, you might try something that you may have ignored because it’s like, “Oh, that’s not a category I read.” And I think that that’s really going away, which is cool to see. So we would love to ask you some questions about your favorite books and what you’ve been reading. Do you have an all-time favorite book?
Cadwell: Yes. My answer to this is always “The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin. It is my favorite book because it has had the most impact on me as a writer. It was the book that I read that I was like, “Oh, you can write about anything you want.” And it just gave me permission to be very…because “The Dispossessed” is very idea focused, and Le Guin is sometimes like this. She’s also very character focused, and that’s one of the things I love about her. But she will talk about ideas on a page. Characters will sit and think about things together. When I saw that I was just like, “Whoa.” And Le Guin is my favorite writer, so it became the most formative book for me, though I haven’t read it in a while and there’s other books I’ve read more. But it’s definitely the book that looms large in my brain.
Laura: Yeah, and you say some references to it in “No Gods, No Monsters,” so that was, kind of, cool to see as well.
Cadwell: Yeah, the book store is based off of it. Yeah.
Laura: If you were to recommend a sci-fi, fantasy book to a reader that hasn’t read that genre before, which book would you suggest?
Cadwell: Oh, that’s hard.
Laura: No pressure.
Cadwell: Okay. So I mentioned “Station Eleven” earlier, and people may put that in…I think it’s spec. It’s quiet, but I think that quiet spec doesn’t make it literary. I think that you can have a quiet speculative element in a story and it’d be a solid [inaudible 00:32:29] spec story. And I think “Station Eleven” is one of those, and I think it’s well done. So I would recommend that because I think it’s about a good access point. It’s about a pandemic, so it depends on whether or not you wanna do that to yourself, but it is certainly a story that I think someone that is coming, at least from the contemporary realist part of the writing world, will read and might get them interested in speculative premises in stories.
I would also recommend the “Broken Earth” trilogy by N. K. Jemison, because I just think that the writing in it is gorgeous and the story itself is really compelling, and the characterization is really sharp. And it’s solidly genre, but it has so much of the stuff that I think that any reader might gravitate to. There’s just so much focus on character complexity that I think that people will enjoy no matter what genre they’re interested in. And then I would recommend maybe “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s a fantastic book and I think people would love it even if they don’t really read science fiction.
Joni: “Station Eleven” has been on my list for a while but I don’t know about reading it in a pandemic. I’ll get to it.
Laura: I read it right at the beginning of the pandemic, like in March 2020, and I was like, “Why would I do this to myself?” But it is very well written. Yeah, for sure.
Cadwell: I read it in November 2019, so not at the beginning of the pandemic but close enough. I was like, “Whoa, this is really well done and it feels very accurate,” and then the pandemic happened. Yeah.
Joni: Do you have a favorite book-to-screen adaptation?
Cadwell: I have two. I can’t decide between…so one of them is not a book-to-screen, it’s a short story. It’s a novel, or a novella-to-screen, “Story of Your Life to Arrival.” It’s a Ted Chiang story. It’s about an alien arrival. It’s a first contact story but it brings in a lot of linguistics, and I remember I was studying linguistics at the time and was just blown away by the fact that he actually had pictures, graphs in the story explaining alien language. I was just like, “Wow, you can do that?” It’s really cool. I asked him about it.
I kind of met him by accident at a thing and then I was like, “How did you do that?” It took him seven years to work on that short story. This is not unusual for Ted Chiang. Ted Chiang takes time when he’s working on things, but seven years is still a lot of time. He did a lot of reading. He read linguistics textbooks and he interviewed people. And it was one of the first times I heard that as an approach and I incorporated it into my own process. The story is really good and the adaptation is really good.
The other one is “Annihilation.” I just think it’s a good adaptation from the book despite being very different from the book. I love them both but I love them both differently.
Laura: And what’s up next on your to-be-read list?
Cadwell: Someone roped me into reading “Dune.” It was actually my audio book narrator for “No Gods, No Monsters.” He was like, “Man, you gotta read it.” And I was like, “Okay, I’ll read it.” And so we were gonna read it and talk about it, so that’s up next. I also have been reading the Murderbot books and I’m on the last one. The last of the novellas, I would like to finish that and then read the novel, and so that’s up. Yeah, and then I would like to read two books from some writer friends who had books come out this year, so “Light from Uncommon Stars” and “Among Thieves.” Those are the books. M. J. Kuhn is “Among Thieves” and Ryka Aoki is “Light from Uncommon Stars.”
Joni: Okay, and we’ll make sure we include links so people can find them. I actually listened to your book on audio and I really liked the narrator, so if people are wanting to check it out, the audio book was really good.
Cadwell: And I would highly recommend it. I think he did a really great job. He asked me a lot of questions, too. We talked on the phone for hours about different characters and what I thought they should sound like. And what he was doing, he would sometimes act it out for me, which was really cool. And I was like, “Yeah, that’s right. I like that.”
Joni: That’s awesome. It’s good to be able to work closely on that kind of thing.
Cadwell: For sure.
Joni: And finally, where can listeners find you online?
Cadwell: I’m pretty easy to find if you just search my name. I don’t think there’s any other Cadwell Turnbull’s, it’s weird. So cadwellturnbull.com is my website. It’s just [inaudible 00:37:01] that way, and then Twitter handle is CadwellTurnbull. I think my Instagram is CadwellTurnbullAuthor.
Joni: Okay, easy to find. Awesome.
Cadwell: Pretty easy.
Joni: So we’ll link to all your books. And thank you so much, this was great.
Cadwell: Thank you. Thank you. I hope I didn’t ramble too much.
Joni: No, it was great. We really, really appreciate your time.
Laura: No, no, you’re fine. Yeah, thank you.
Cadwell: Thank you for having me.
Rachel: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” If you are interested in picking up Cadwell’s book, we will include a link to it in our show notes. And if you’re enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us at kobowritinglife.com, and be sure to follow us on socials. We are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter, and @Kobo.Writing.Life on Instagram.
Joni: This episode was produced by Rachel Wharton, and Joni Di Placido, and my cohost was Laura Granger. Editing is by Kelly Rowbotham. Our theme music is provided by Tear Jerker, and big thanks to Cadwell Turnbull for being a guest today. If you’re ready to start your self-publishing journey, sign up at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.