Talking with Ti
with Ti Mikkel
Q&A with Gail Gerstner Miller
TI: Hello, Gail! Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions today. Let’s go back to the beginning. In the early 80s, you had a regular game night with a group of science fiction authors, including Walter Jon Williams, Victor Milán, your husband John, Melinda Snodgrass, Royce Wideman, and Jim Moore. And then George and Parris showed up. And then Vic Milan gave George Superworld as a Christmas present, and WILD CARDS was born about three years later.
GAIL: Vic gave George Superworld for a birthday gift and it went from there.
TI: The seed was planted. You spent a lot of time playing in those days, but you also had a day job. How did you manage it all?
GAIL: I was tired. I also spent lots of time on the phone discussing various games with Vic and Melinda, which shows how really into it we were as although I talk a lot, I do not talk on the phone.
TI: [Laughs] I don’t enjoy talking on the phone either. You then went on to become a public librarian, is that right?
GAIL: I have been a professional librarian for a long time. I went to work for the city of Albuquerque twenty years ago, so a public librarian.
TI: There’s often a bit of confusion about your profession. Librarians aren’t only about books. What does your average day look like?
GAIL: It’s hectic, the library system my branch is part of has 18 libraries. When the pandemic hit we closed down, although I worked from the middle of April until we reopened in June, June 2, to be exact.
The libraries had lots of people who were contractors, so we lost 60 positions.
TI: That’s horrible. And those who remain have absorbed their responsibilities?
GAIL: We are open limited hours, with limited staff, and are doing the work of all the pages (people who shelve books), and our volunteers. We have no public computers available as we don’t have the staff for it and they, the computers, are too close together. So we are checking out books and checking in books and dvds, all of which are quarantined for three days. We then have to shelve everything. We are also available to assist people with downloading materials, helping them find books and movies and moving items from one branch to another. Without the public computers we are much more like a classic library.
TI: Another lesser known fact: most librarian positions require a master’s degree. You attended Syracuse University, is that right?
GAIL: Yes, I got my MLS from SU. However, library administrators seem to believe that anyone who worked in a bookstore can function as a librarian, and they can be paid less.
TI: How do you feel about that?
GAIL: Nothing like having the people you work for demean your profession and education because of money.
TI: Indeed. You’ve contributed to the WILD CARDS comics and written for the series. You also created two major characters: John Fortune and Peregrine.
GAIL: Yes, John was writing John Fortune for a while
TI: For those who don’t know (shame), Peregrine is a stunning woman with wings. And she can fly. I’m trying to figure out her genesis in your brain. Did you dream of flying as a kid?
GAIL: No, I never dreamed of flying. As a matter of fact, I didn’t envision her with wings. I just wanted her to be able to fly. The Superworld character sheets had a small square where you could draw your character in costume. Since drawing is totally not my forte, I asked Vic to design her costume and he added wings, so she had wings.
TI: Teamwork! I love it. Let’s do a deeper dive into your childhood. You grew up in New York, correct? When I did my interview with John, he mentioned working in onion fields as a kid. Did you have a similar childhood?
GAIL: Not in the least. I grew up in Central New York (Utica, Ithaca and Liverpool outside of Syracuse) and spent my time playing, swimming and reading. And baby-sitting, I used to take care of this family that had 5 kids a year apart, and I would get paid 50 cents an hour.
TI: Holy crap. Please tell me they weren’t all in diapers.
GAIL: No, they were like 12, 11, 10, 9, and 8 – Kathleen, Noreen, Eileen, Maureen and Dennis. I was really thrilled when I was in 8th grade and a family moved to Liverpool from New York City, they paid $1.00 an hour and tipped well. I would sometimes make $10.00 babysitting for them on a Saturday night, and they had lovely and very polite children. I read constantly, at least a book a day. I was a lifeguard when I got old enough.
TI: At a pool or on a lake?
GAIL: In a pool, although my mother was from outside of Boston a city called Lynn and when we were visited my grandparents, we swam in the ocean.
TI: That sounds nice. Were you ever subjected to the Rat Farm? For the uninitiated, Gail’s husband worked on a compound that housed thousands of lab rats.
TI: Thank the gods. Speaking of John, how did you two meet?
GAIL: We met working on an archaeological project based in Oneonta, NY. I was working on my MLS and had two courses to go. SU at that time had these two week classes from 8 to 5. I was waiting for the bus up to the hill one morning and a car stopped. It was a woman who was in my class. Her younger sister and my older sister had been good friend in junior high and her parents lived close to my parents. She started giving me rides to and from school and we got talking about things. Come to find out, her husband was running an archaeology project out of SUNY Binghamton and was looking for experienced people to work. I had spent a summer doing archaeology in Digby, Nova Scotia and I called him. I got hired and the rest in history. John and my 42 anniversary is in about 2 weeks.
TI: I love a love story. He told me that you went to see STAR WARS on your second date is that right?
GAIL: Yes. I think we ended up seeing it about 5 times that summer. There was not a lot to do in Oneonta, a small college town. We also saw a lot of baseball, Oneonta had a AAA farm club team, the Oneonta Yankees. The players were really young and were living in rental houses and apartments that the college students lived in during the school year. The start of the school year and the end of the baseball season overlapped, so the people in the town would take a player into their home for the end of the season.
TI: Are you still heavily involved in fandom?
GAIL: Another thing John introduced me to. I had no idea that there was anything like fandom, I just read the books!
TI: The world has changed a bit in these last few months. In California, we’ve been on lockdown due to COVID-19. What has your experience been in New Mexico?
GAIL: We have an excellent governor who is doing her best to keep us all safe. New Mexico has Texas on one side and Arizona on the other, so that is not so great.
TI: Have you taken on any projects? My mother started a garden and my aunt has become quite the yogi during quarantine.
GAIL: When I was off, I read and walked the dogs daily. When we had our old collies, Hamish and Khyber, I could walk both of them and the Chihuahuas together. Rocket and Starlord are a little more exuberant, so I had to walk the collies together and then the Chihuahuas.
TI: Dog tax. Pictures please.
TI: Back to your quarantine projects.
GAIL: We watched lots of movies, especially Japanese Kaiju and fifties science fiction. I kept meaning to do stuff like clean the house and the closets, but that never happened.
TI: I had similar ambitions and failed, so you’re not alone. How about books and tv? As a voracious reader, did you come across any interesting?
GAIL: I read more mediocre stuff, but did reread and rewatch the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. And reread the Barry Hughart books.
TI: Let’s get into the craft itself. Tell me about your creative process. When writing, do you stick to a set schedule?
GAIL: I think that my Wild Card story is the only thing I will ever have published.
TI: Any tips for would-be writers?
GAIL: Probably, keep writing.
TI: Short and to the point. I love it. Thank you so much Gail!
GAIL: Thank you. John says hi.
TI: Hi, John!