Friday, January 19, 2024

6 Books with Phoebe Wagner

Long time readers of Nerds of a Feather will know Phoebe Wagner as one of the kick ass writers of our flock. They're listed on the sidebar. Go take a look. If you know Phoebe from Nerds of a Feather, you know they are one of the most insightful writers we've ever had write for us. But perhaps you don't know that she's also a writer of kick ass fiction. Their debut novel A Shot of Gin was an absolute delight. I read it late last year and I was hooked from the start.

I should note that this chat with Phoebe was supposed to run back in November (just after A Shot of Gin debuted) and the delay is absolutely my fault - but, that also means that you don't have to wait any longer and go read it right away!

Phoebe Wagner is an author, editor, and academic writing at the intersection of speculative fiction and climate change. Their debut novel 
A Shot of Gin is from Parliament House Press (2023), and Publishers Weekly called their novella When We Hold Each Other Up a “fresh take on climate fiction.” They are the editor of three solarpunk anthologies, including Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk & Eco-Speculation. Follow them at

1. What book are you currently reading?

Nonfiction, actually! I'm between novels (just finished The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang and about to start Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa). I'm reading Surviving the Future: Abolitionist Queer Strategies edited by Scott Branson, Raven Hudson, and Bry Reed. It's a collection of essays that feel very speculative in nature about the different futures we are trying to achieve. As an SFF writer, I find nonfiction collections like these are necessary to help me imagine different futures for sci-fi or alternate ways of structuring society for my fantasy stories.

2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?

I'm so, so excited to read We Are the Crisis by Cadwell Turnbull, which comes out November 7th. I was blown away by the first book, No Gods, No Monsters for the worldbuilding, the twist on urban fantasy (especially the werewolves, a favorite of mine), and the ideas around what people choose to see or ignore. And the writing is just gorgeous. Book one was an instant favorite that I know I'll keep coming back to, so I can't wait to get my hands on book two. Plus, Turnbull includes several references to one of my favorite books of all time, The Dispossessed, throughout the first book.

3. Is there a book you are currently itching to re-read?

Unsurprisingly, I'm in a vampire mood right now, and I'm itching to go back to The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez. I've recently stumbled across more and more of Gomez's activist work. I knew she was an important activist in the 80s/90s, but now I'm seeing references to her work in some of the other nonfiction I'm reading about her importance to building queer and Black community. So much of those themes are central to The Gilda Stories while still being a sexy, entertaining vampire read. Plus, I really appreciate how Gomez plays with time in that book. I'm interested in how a vampire can be an archive of memories of how social justice issues have changed, how the climate has changed, and so on. Without any spoilers, Gomez is certainly thinking about how community builds and changes over time with her vampires, and I want to go back and study that.

4. A book that you love and wish that you had written?

Freakin' American Gods by Neil Gaiman (though love is a strong word--not my favorite Neil Gaiman book). So many of Gaiman's ideas are delightfully simple (though not simple in execution) that I'm like, dang, I wanted to come up with that. I grew up in a complicated religious situation, so I'm fascinated with how gods survive, transform, change, and so on. The way Gaiman uses Americana throughout the book also speaks to me as a "place-based" writer. I try to absorb a place and capture it on the page in all its weird, wonderful ways, and Gaiman's use of the road trip novel is such a great, speculative example.

5. What's one book, which you read as a child or young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

I'd have to say the Redwall series. I recently went back to that series to introduce my husband to the books, and I was shocked to realize I'd definitely internalized how Brian Jacques writes about place and community. He always has a large cast of characters--which I'm partial to, as well--contained by their location (or on a quest, very hero's journey). What struck me in going back to the books was Jacques depiction of community all working together to solve an issue, usually without hierarchy. These ideas show up a lot in my writing, and I imagine I have to give at least a small bit of thanks to Redwall for that.

6. And speaking of that, what's your latest book and why is it awesome?

My debut novel A Shot of Gin came out on October 3rd! It's about Juniper “Gin” Cain, who is pretty sure she’s mostly human. She works security for the vampire-owned All Saints Casino in Reno, Nevada, and Gin’s got an edge on the others: vampires can’t drink her blood, making her perfect for the job. But when a radiated zombie staggers into the casino's club, she’s forced to expose the inhuman traits she’s kept hidden. It's awesome because these Reno-influenced vampires, zombies, and mostly-human types are different than the old-school ancient European types--I mean, a cowboy vampire? How cool is that? I hope this novel is a fast-paced ride but also introduces people to the city of Reno and the high desert of Nevada, which has played a major role in U.S. history due, in part, to nuclear testing happening in the region.