Michael Merriam talks speculative fiction

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Michael Merriam, who lives with his wife and cat in Hopkins, Minnesota, will be reading from his speculative works this Friday at DreamHaven Books. Author of The Horror at Cold Springs and Should We Drown in Feathered Sleep, a near-future post-apocalyptic story about a pair of loons who magically transform a young woman in a wheelchair into a naiad (a water nymph), Merriam has written over 70 pieces of short fiction and poetry. His latest novel, a revenge fantasy which is set to come out this summer, is called Last Car to Annwn Station. Merriam is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and is also the convention coordinator and liaison for the Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers. We took a moment to talk to the author about the genre.
 
City Pages: Why do you think the term "speculative fiction" is controversial?

Michael Merriam: There are people--readers, writers, editors, critics--who dislike it because they don't want an umbrella term to cover science fiction, fantasy, and horror, preferring each genre to stand on its own. There are others who take issue with the term "speculative," saying that fantasy and horror are not speculative, while science fiction is. Finally, there are authors who are published in the mainstream who call their work speculative fiction in order to set it apart from science fiction, which they see as a lesser art form. 

CP: Does Minneapolis have a particularly vibrant speculative fiction scene compared to other cities?

MM: Yes. Minneapolis and St. Paul support two independent science fiction bookstores: DreamHaven Books and Uncle Hugo's Books. There are multiple SF/F/H [science fiction/fantasy/horror] conventions in the Twin Cities as well, with attendance ranging from a few hundred to 4,000 people gathering over various weekends to celebrate the genre in all its forms. There is also a strong writing community, with dozens of published novelists and short fiction authors living in the Twin Cities.

CP: When you set out to write, do you think about the genre that it fits into? Or do the stories just come out the way they do, and you worry about the genre afterward?

MM: For the most part the stories just come out the way they do. I write science fiction, fantasy, and horror because that is what I read and what resonates with me as a reader and writer. If I were to write outside these genres, say a mainstream story with no fantastical elements, it would need to be a conscious choice, since my default is fantasy. 

CP: Which term do you think best describes your work (speculative, fantasy, or science fiction)? How so?

MM: I'd say I am a fantasist, though I do write some science fiction. I recently came across a term,  "fantastika," which is a European term that encompasses SF/F/H under one umbrella the same way that speculative fiction is supposed to. It basically means "literature of the fantastic."

CP: Have you always written in these types of genres? Is this the type of literature you read as a young reader?
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MM: Yes, and yes. When I set out be to a working, published writer, I thought I would be writing high fantasy--sword and sorcery stuff--but I ended up being mostly an urban and contemporary fantasy writer. I discovered that I enjoy taking everyday, normal people--the folks you work with, commune with, go to office parties with--and having their world shaken up by a fantastic element: Magic, fey creatures, some form of the supernatural. I really enjoy combining the mundane with the fantastic through the eyes of hopefully well-realized characters. 

CP: Is it easier to get work published in a genre than without?

MM: I think any lit genre you work in, be it science fiction, mysteries, romance, or mainstream stories, all have their challenges both from the art and craft end (the writing) and from the business end (the selling). The top magazines and publications, no matter their editorial and story focus, want only the best work in their field. 

Speculations Reading with Michael Merriam takes place on Friday, February 4 at 6:30 p.m. at DreamHaven Books (2301 E. 38th St., Minneapolis). For more information, call 612.823.6161.

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