Talking with Ti
with Ti Mikkel
Q&A with Cherie Priest
TI: Hello Cherie! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk today. I like to start with everyone’s WILD CARDS beginnings. You came aboard with FORT FREAK and are the woman behind the illustrious Leo Storgman. He’s such a fantastic character. What or who inspired him?
CHERIE:Hey, thanks for having me! And Leo is more or less my take on Hammett’s Continental Op, if you want the truth. I grew up on noir and am a huge fan thereof, so it was a real treat to get to try my hand with it. As for his appearance – apart from the horns, at least – I loosely based him on my grandfather…specifically, a picture of him taken when he was in his early fifties, working in a barn. Grandpa (who passed away a few years ago) was a tough, stocky guy. Not heavy and not tall, but strong and wide with arms like Popeye. I’ve always loved that picture of him, and I kept it in the back of my head when I was writing Leo.
TI: You were also a contributor on MISSISSIPPI ROLL, which I absolutely loved. How did your experience working on your second mosaic novel compare to the first?
CHERIE: It was much easier, to be honest, mostly because it’s a whole lot simpler to write a novella/novelette than a full interstitial. I only had to write one small self-contained story, rather than one large story that has a thousand moving parts and needs to touch/address/impact a dozen other people’s stories – like the ones I wrote for Fort Freak and Jokertown Shuffle. Those two took a great deal more fiddling, rewriting, tweaking, and massaging the story into position. “Death on the Water” (from Mississippi Roll) was a self-contained little mystery, and I got to be funny with it. I don’t often have the opportunity to write funny, so I especially enjoyed that particular piece.
TI: Let’s talk about Raul Esposito. For those who don’t know, Raul is a joker whose skin grows a steady supply of mushrooms. How did you come up with that?
CHERIE: It was a collision of random ideas, Katamari style. The idea of a mob hitman being called (in slang) a “button man,” and the squish of a button mushroom, and the weird thought that mushrooms grow like warts wherever they want. Put them all together, and you get poor Raul, whose “origin story” I told in the Tor.com piece “The Button Man and the Murder Tree.”
TI: Do you have a favorite mushroom?
CHERIE:I’m a sucker for a juicy portabella, myself.
TI: You were born in Florida and moved around quite a bit because your father was in the Army. Was that difficult as a kid?
CHERIE:Sure. I mean, my parents divorced when I was about five, and my mother moved every couple of years, too – so bouncing back and forth between them was sometimes a challenge. Also, for a few years we lived with my maternal grandparents; during that time, my aunt divorced as well and moved in, too – with her three children. It was quite a household, especially once my third aunt divorced and came back with her three kids, as well. In many regards, my childhood was more or less straight-up havoc.
TI:Oh, wow. Forged in fire, you were.
CHERIE: Well, when I was fifteen I got into some trouble (arrested for shoplifting) and went to go live with my dad/his wife/my baby brother – but that only lasted a year. After that, it was boarding schools and a messy “gap year” before college. I never really lived with either parent again.
TI: Out of the places you lived (Florida, Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee), which did you find the most magical?
CHERIE: I’ve lived in all those places, yes, and many more besides – but if you look closely enough, you can find magic almost anywhere. My family is all from Florida, though; I’m the fifth generation on one side to be born in the same county (and a distant uncle was on the committee that named the county, lol) which makes me something of a unicorn, I guess. So I’d probably have to throw down for the Sunshine State, even though I haven’t really set much fiction there.
TI: Hah! I’ve spent a lot of time in Florida. I always tell non-southerners to mind the “No Swimming” signs as it has nothing to do with currents or pollution and everything to do with gators.
CHERIE:Indeed. Also, don’t park under the coconut palms, and don’t yell “shark!” when you see dolphins.
TI: You’ve split your adult life between Tennessee and Seattle, correct? Which do you prefer? Which setting do you find is better for your writing?
CHERIE: Kind of? Sure, let’s say yes. But I can write anywhere, really. I’ll find a story to tell just about anyplace.
TI: Let’s talk about urban exploration. For those who aren’t in-the-know, UE is the exploration of man-made structures, like abandoned ruins. What have you explored?
CHERIE: More places than I can count. I’ve been kicked out in a few spots so many times that I’m told should I get caught again…I’ll go to jail. Old TB sanitariums, old schools, old power plants, old houses falling down on the side of rural roads, you name it. But I take only pictures and leave only footprints. I always do my best to respect every place I visit without permission.
TI: I’ve always wanted to explore the Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites at Mesa Verde.
CHERIE: I’d like to spend a week or two climbing around in Detroit. I go there about once a year on business, but still think it’d be amazing to have a UE guide run me through some of the highlights there. It’s a wonderful city and I want to see some of its history before it either gets redeveloped into oblivion, or rots away forever.
TI: How did you get into urban exploration? What are your other hobbies?
CHERIE: I’m just nosy. I literally have no other excuse or reason.
TI:HA! Let’s talk about your childhood. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
CHERIE: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. Quite literally. I’ve been telling people I was going to be a writer (or a tv star) since I could talk. (I think the “tv star” thing is because I was on Romper Room for awhile when I was small. I don’t really remember it, but I must’ve enjoyed it.)
TI: Did your parents encourage your writing?
CHERIE: Dad, yes. Mom, not so much. I’ve always wanted to write speculative fiction and my mother (who is highly religious and conservative) finds my stories embarrassing and won’t read them, much less ownany of my books. She’s pretty sure they invite the presence of Satan into her home, which is kind of hilarious. My dad and my stepmom are my biggest cheerleaders, though.
TI: What did your mom do for a living?
CHERIE: She was a teacher in the Seventh Day Adventist school system. Sometimes a principal, depending. I went to a lot of very small religious schools, growing up.
TI: Let’s move onto the craft itself. You received an M.A. in Rhetoric/Professional writing from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
CHERIE: If you want a writing degree, I say go for it. I learned a lot, and I’m a better crafts-person because of that experience. But if you want to be a writer, for the love of God, develop other interests, too. I decided against pursuing a doctorate largely because I felt like I’d fallen into a pattern of writing about writing about writing about writing. The end results were not very good, because of course they weren’t.
TI: Do you write every day?
CHERIE: No. I write when I can, but sometimes I can’t. For example, right now we are in the process of trying to sell our house and buy another place, and stagger the timing so we don’t have to live in hotels with two 90-pound dogs and a large cat. I also have a book coming out in a month or so, and I’m trying to work up a pitch for more Wild Cards stuff, as requested. I do not have the brain space to do much writing right now, but I’ve come to peace with it.
TI: Have you ever faced writer’s block?What do you do to get the creative juices flowing?
CHERIE: Not really. I mean, ideas are never the problem – it’s finding the time to write them all down. If I hit a snag, I sit down with a legal pad on a clipboard and a few colored pens and brainstorm my way through it; but a straight up block doesn’t happen much. As for getting the juices flowing, I don’t know. It’s just ass-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard. Sometimes I need a break for awhile, so I watch TV or play video games or read. I try to keep a healthy attitude about it.
TI: How about TV—binge watching anything interesting right now?
CHERIE: Oh Lordy, too many things to count. Wrapping up the last season of iZombie as it appears; watched the last season of Lucifer on Netflix; also on Netflix The Haunting of Hill House was phenomenal; plowed through Russian Doll; The Umbrella Academy was more fun than it had any right to be; love Bojack Horseman and can’t wait for the new season of Archer; can’t believe The Santa Clarita Dietwon’t get another season; can’t wait for Stranger Things to come back; generally enjoyed the Marvel shows, even Iron Fist (second season, at least); Castlevania was a scream; adored GLOW and hope it comes back; Special was adorabe and so is Bonded; we’re almost caught up on Barry, which we came to a little late; we’re really digging Happy! on Syfy; and that’s just off the top of my head.
TI: Do you have a favorite author?
CHERIE: Nope. I have a hundred of them. It’s like asking me to name a famous blonde. Where would I even begin?
TI: I see from Twitter you’re a pet-lover. Please introduce to us your floof-babies.
CHERIE: Oh yes. We have three at the moment (our dearly departed eldercat recently passed away– at an improbably ripe old age). Quinnie is a large, silly cat, found as a small kitten under the hood of a friend’s car a couple of years ago; we were going to foster her out, but Greyson fell in love with her, and it would’ve broken his heart to lose her, so we kept her. Greyson is our boy scout – a dog who’s almost entirely Great Pyrenees and beagle (yes, we have questions), with a gentle heart and a guard dog’s soul. He has brought me – with his face, alive and entirely unharmed – three kittens, two stunned birds, and a baby possum. Then there’s Lucy, our most recent addition. Lucy is a husky/shepherd/chow mix, dubbed “ScornDog” by the internet for her Resting Bitch Face. She’s a mayhem beast of infinite brilliance, curiosity, and mischief, who has eaten at least five squirrels, nine birds, and God knows what else. If it fits in her mouth, it’s a snack.
TI: In doing these interviews, I’ve learned that many in the Wild Cards consortium have hidden talents. What’s yours?
CHERIE: Parking. I could parallel park a Sherman tank on a bathmat, and I always have a knack for getting lucky spots in crowded lots.
TI: That’s not a talent—that’s a super-power. Thank you so much for your time, Cherie!