Born and raised at the end of the Oregon Trail, Margaret Owen first encountered an author in the wild in fourth grade. Roughly twenty seconds later, she decided she too would be an author, the first of many well-thought-out life decisions.
The career plan shifted frequently as Margaret spent her childhood haunting the halls of Powell’s Books. After earning her degree in Japanese, her love of espresso called her north to Seattle, where she worked in everything from thrift stores to presidential campaigns. The common thread between every job can be summed up as: lessons were learned.
Fortunately, it turned out that fourth-grade Margaret was onto something. She now spends her days wrestling disgruntled characters onto the page, and negotiating a long-term hostage situation with her two monstrous cats. (There is surprisingly little difference between the two.) In her free time, she enjoys exploring ill-advised travel destinations, and raising money for social justice nonprofits through her illustrations.
I had the opportunity to interview Margaret, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you for having me! My name is Margaret Owen, and I’m the author of four YA fantasy books, and the co-editor on a recently-released YA fantasy anthology! I live in Seattle in an ever-shifting power struggle with my monstrous cats, and when I’m not writing, you can usually find me hunched over some ill-conceived art project.
What can you tell us about your latest book series, Little Thieves? What was the inspiration for this story?
This is a very nerdy answer, and I make no apology for it; a good chunk of the inspiration came from my D&D character’s criminally underutilized backstory (stolen identity, jewel thief, you get the idea), which I realized had a lot of potential on its own. I also knew I wanted to tell a story about a very competent and unscrupulous con artist who is cursed to do good deeds. When I spun those two together, I realized that it had a lot of common ground with the fairytale The Goose Girl, if told from the villain’s point of view, and it was all downhill from there!
As a creative, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically speculative fiction and young adult fiction?
I can’t tell you what exactly draws me to storytelling anymore than a moth can tell you why they want nothing more than to seduce an open flame, alas! But I think both speculative fiction and young adult fiction have a capacity for unfettered creativity that appeals to me. All the colors in the paint set, all the tools in the toolbox, they’re all in the mix. No concept is too unhinged for speculative fiction. No plot twist or dramatic reveal is too absurd for YA. I actually quite admire the restraint and efficiency of stripped down, minimalist fiction, but right now I’m in my maximalism era.
From what I can tell about the book, both the protagonist and love interest of Little Thieves are demisexual. Could you take a bit about what it means to feature ace/demisexual representation in your writing?
Honestly, I’ve always found it a bit jarring to read about romance where the narrator sees someone and is immediately head over heels—not because instalove is unrealistic, especially for teens, just that it simply wasn’t how that went for me. As a teen, I rarely experienced attraction, just a very occasional intense crush on someone I already knew; when people would gush about some celebrity’s washboard abs or dreamy eyelashes, I’d have to gamely nod along and mumble something about a jawline and hope no one realized I was just making it up as I went.
So when I was writing Vanja, the protagonist of Little Thieves, early on, there was a moment for her to articulate how she experienced attraction, as a teen girl in a society that says she should be falling in love with a new person each week. And I decided to write someone a bit closer to my own experiences, and when considering the love interest, I specifically chose to make it someone she didn’t have to explain herself to. I’m sure I’ve lost some readers who expected the romance to follow particular beats, or others who wanted a Demisexuality 101 course. And there are always those who deem any inclusion as intentional discourse bait, rather than a simple desire to speak your experience into the void and see if it resonates with anyone else. But I’ve gotten a lot of lovely shouts back from that void from folks who do feel seen, and it drowns out the bad. Gosh, this answer ran long!
How would you describe your creative process?
Perhaps overwrought, haha! I usually marinate an idea over months, ideally years, usually while I’m working on something else. Once I’m ready to write it, I have a needlessly regimented outlining process that is effectively like taking a picture of the overall plot, then zooming in on one act, then zooming in further on one chapter, and writing that chapter, then zooming back out to the act, zooming in on the next chapter, and continuing that chapter by chapter, act by act, until the book is done. It allows me flexibility to retain the joy of discovery, while providing enough structure that I don’t get so overwhelmed I ram into writer’s block!
As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?
This is always a difficult question, because I have what I optimistically refer to as a decorator crab brain, and at any given moment it’s plucking bottle caps and bits of coral off the seafloor and affixing it to my shell. I grew up on Tamora Pierce, but found Terry Pratchett’s thoughtful and merrily scathing work unmatched. Manga authors like CLAMP, Rumiko Takahashi, and Naoko Takeuchi crowded my shelves for certain. But inspiration comes at all sides for me, which isn’t as fun as you might think. It could be an offhand comment from a podcast host, amateur attempts at locksmithing, unusual weather, a container ship blocking a canal, it’s all fodder.
Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?
The closest I think I got was Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series, which tracks, as Tamora said a while after the series’ completion that she’d now consider the protagonist to be on the ace spectrum. I also personally really enjoy Nina Zenik from Six of Crows, as it was one of the first depictions I’d read of a fat girl that was fun, not just a dowdy wallflower relegated to being a constant punchline.
What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging?
I really enjoy the moments in the middle of drafting where you figure out a solution to a problem that has haunted you the entire drafting process up to that point. You feel superhuman, like you could fight the pope. I think the most challenging and frustrating moments are when you have to keep drafting, knowing you have a problem and haven’t figured out the fix yet, because you have to trust yourself enough to know the answer will come to you, and keep going.
Aside from your work, what are some things you would like readers to know about you?
That when I post artwork, they do not need to tell me to credit the artist. Darlings, I am the artist. Good instinct, god bless, but I wear many hats.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
Favorite Sailor Scout. It’s Sailor Jupiter. How could it be anyone else? She’s a terminal romantic who loves to cook, has heaps of houseplants, is like six feet tall, and will absolutely demolish an asshole with her bare fists.
What advice might you have to give for other aspiring writers?
Don’t try to write to a trend, or to write what you think is popular. Books that come out today were bought by a publisher two years ago, and typically written a year before that, so those ‘trends’ are three years old. Write what sets your brain on fire.
Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?
I am currently working on the third book in the Little Thieves trilogy, and I’ve got some exciting stuff I really hope to announce soon! But I can say Book 3 is going well. I have a calendar to track all the character deaths and make sure they’re appropriately spaced. It’s great.
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
I feel like if you haven’t read Aiden Thomas’s work yet, and I’m your introduction to him, we have failed as a society. Linsey Miller continues to be an ace of aces, and folks looking for queer fairytale shenanigans absolutely cannot go wrong with Laura Pohl!