Lyda Morehouse was born in Sacramento, California in the late 1960s. A love for politics may have been prenatally imbued into Lyda's consciousness since, while pregnant, her mother Rita went "door knocking" against then gubernatorial candidate Ronald Reagan.
After only six months under the California sun, Lyda and her parents moved back to her father's hometown of LaCrosse, WI. Though raised Unitarian Universalist, Lyda attended Cathedral School. Her senior year in high school, Lyda was voted "Biggest Women's Libber," which probably surprised no one but her. She was active in debate, Future Problem Solvers of America, and any number of "rabble-rousing" events, including a fight to get the Ten Commandments plaque out of a downtown LaCrosse park.
Lyda moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1985 to attend Augsburg College, a private Lutheran liberal arts college. There she briefly flirted with theater, then switched tracks to become an English major. Thanks to a head start at Viterbo College during high school, Lyda was able to complete two majors in the usual four-year term.
Since graduating from college in 1989, Lyda, like many artists who have to pay the rent, has had a slew of crazy jobs. She's done everything from delivering pizza to coding HTML and XML for the Minnesota Historical Society. Finally, after several years of not knowing what she wanted to be when she grew up, Lyda settled on writing. She took a science fiction writing class at the Loft in Minneapolis, formed a writers group that would eventually help her finish her first novel, and got it published.
Lyda Morehouse is the award-winning author of several published science fiction novels including Archangel Protocol, Fallen Host, Messiah Node, and Apocalypse Array (Roc). Her first novel, Archangel Protocol, was the 2002 Shamus award winner for the best original paperback novel featuring a private investigator, the winner of the Barnes & Noble Maiden Voyage Award for best debut science fiction/fantasy novel, and a nominee for the Romantic Times Critic's Choice for best science fiction. Fallen Host made the preliminary Nebula ballot. Apocalypse Array won the Philip K. Dick Special Citation Award for Excellence in mass market paperback science fiction novels. Lyda's latest novel, Tall, Dark & Dead, has been published by Berkley in trade paperback in May of 2006 under the pen name Tate Hallaway. Lyda has also published short fiction in Science Fiction Age, Tales of the Unanticipated, and Dreams of Decadence. Now she is a full-time stay-at-home parent for her son Mason, and a part-time writer.
Lynne Jamneck: What was your childhood like? Was there anything significant that influenced you early on in terms of writing?
Lyda Morehouse: I was raised in a Unitarian Universalist fellowship, and my variety was mostly secular humanist and not at all Christian. Unitarians are kind of rationalists. Not all UUs even believe in God. Some do. It's really kind of anyone's guess what the average UU believes. There are some basic tenets, but if I listed them some UU would write in and argue. Plus, even among Unitarians, those of us who grew up in a fellowship are considered kind of weird. We have no minister, and the congregation shepherds itself. There were no pews, hymnals, etc. In fact, when I finally went to a UU church in Minneapolis, I felt sort of freaked out to participate in a UU call and answer type moment. It seemed way too "churchy" for me.
However, the town I grew up in was dominated by Catholics—German and Irish. I used to get odd glances from my classmates by getting into really heated debates about life, the universe, and everything and then saying: "Wow, that was really spiritual." For me, it was. A good debate and some strong coffee were the backbones of the religion of my youth.
Plus I spent three years in a parochial grade school where my report card was handed down from the priest at the altar during Communion. Not being Catholic, I had to wave away the Body of Christ (!) with a mumbled apology, and ask for the report card. I remember scurrying back to the pew to peek at my grades (seemingly handed down by God). Looking at the As I got in religion, I began to suspect that maybe God was more sympathetic to non-Christians than either the Catholics or the Unitarians would have had me believe.
I'm absolutely certain that had a lot to do with the writing of my first novel, Archangel Protocol.
LJ: Which authors had the earliest influence on your own work in terms of style and technique?
LM: Earliest? Tough call. My parents read all sorts of things to me, including A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. I wouldn't have thought that would have been an influence on my writing until I recently reread them all to my son. I find, actually, the stuff I'm writing now—the vampire chick-lit—has a very conversational style that I can see in Milne's.
Most profound influence is probably easiest to determine—that would be Anne McCaffrey and Katherine Kurtz. Those were the first authors that sparked my imagination enough that I didn't want their universes to end. I wrote a lot of what would now be called fanfic while waiting for the next novels by either of those two women to come out. Thank God I came of age in the era before the Internet so none of this stuff was ever posted anywhere anyone can find it. It's all safely tucked into spiral-bound notebooks in my basement.
Then, perhaps obviously, I fell in love with all the cyberpunk authors like William Gibson, Pat Cadigan, Bruce Bethke, and the rest.
LJ: Your latest book, Tall, Dark & Dead, is a supernatural novel. Why the decision to write it under the pseudonym of Tate Hallaway?
LM: Have you read the new book? Fans of Lyda Morehouse would be deeply disappointed by Tate Hallaway. I mean, sure, my "voice" is there, but to write Tall, Dark & Dead, I let out a part of me that I usually keep hidden—the fluffy girly bits, that is.
LJ: Was this a conscious effort to break away from science fiction?
LM: Well, Tall, Dark & Dead is not science fiction or fantasy. It is a romance. It's published by a romance house (Berkley Trade) and has "romance" right there on the cover.
But, if you're asking me if I wanted to leave SF/F, the answer is no.
And, yes, that's all I'll say about it.
LJ: What sort of research did you do for Tall, Dark and Dead?
LM: I had to learn about straight sex, something I know very, very little about—okay, nothing. Luckily, my work did not require field research or I think my partner would have objected.
If people found out vampires really existed in current society, they would probably be A) exploited or alternatively B) be killed. If you had to hazard a guess, which possibility would you go with?
There are a large number people who would willingly donate their blood or themselves to any real-life vampires, so I guess I'd have to go with exploited.
It really depends on the kind of vampire we're talking about here. I mean, there are so many options. you have the alien among us, the mindless bloodsucker, the romantically tragic superhuman some of whom have to kill to live and others who can live on just a "taste" of blood. The last of those would blend easiest into society, I think—I mean, given that people start noticing when a whole bunch of their neighbors start dying.
That's something I've been thinking a lot about for the sequel to TD&D, which is tentatively called Dead Sexy, and that is, how do vampires not get busted by the police when they do kill? They might be magical creatures, but they shed hair and fingernails and leave footprints and the like. How is it that CSI: Nightstalker isn't showing up at their coffins at five a.m. with a laundry list of damning forensic evidence?
LJ: Editors and publishers are forever saying they do not want stories with vampires, yet every year you can bet your bottom dollar, the books will be on the shelves. What is it that makes stories about vampires so popular?
LM: That's a tough question, and one I really considered when I wrote TD&D. I really don't know the answer, except that I have to admit that I'm one of those people who will regularly pick up a vampire novel and read it, sort of as a guilty pleasure. I don't think it's an accident that Laurel K. Hamilton named her first novel just that, Guilty Pleasures.
I'm fascinated by the recent romanticizing (re-romanticizing, given its roots in the Romantic era?) of the vampire, with Charlaine Harris's extremely popular Sookie Stackhouse novels and the Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson and all their spawn, of which my book is one.
In romance, it makes a bit more sense in that the vampire is kind of the ultimate bad boy (a favorite trope of romance writers) and, at least historically, one with a heart of gold. The vampire can be a very tragic figure. He's also, obviously, powerful and a bit frightening. I guess that's a big part of the appeal for a lot of people.
I suspect that editors don't want vampire short stories or novels because it's very difficult to do anything truly new with the vampire. So much has been written that the very idea of the vampire is cliché. One of the ways that I've tried to deal with that in my own writing is to go back to the source material, which is to say, folklore and, to some extent, Bram Stoker's Dracula. A lot of the folklore contradicts—or adds flavor to—many of the Hollywood vampire standards—for instance, the stake through the heart in folklore was not meant to kill the vampire (something you could only do by beheading), but to transfix him—to hold the vampire down, in the coffin, so he couldn't rise.
But none of this really gets to the heart of the appeal. Dead guys are hot?
LJ: When you first started writing, how did you make connections to the writing world, and in particular the science fiction community?
LM: I'm a fan, and I've been attending conventions regularly since I discovered them (WisCon 8).
But I learned about how to be a professional, working SF/F writer from a class I took at our local literary center, a place called The Loft. The Loft, being a literary center, had not been particularly open to genre fiction at the beginning, but I worked there briefly as a receptionist, and during a staff retreat I had The Conversation about genre, where I tried to convince the programming staff that some of their favorite novels qualify as genre—like Orwell's 1984 as SF, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as SF, Brontë's Wuthering Heights as Romance, etc. I must have been persuasive because many years after I left The Loft, I discovered they actually offered a course in writing SF/F.
I took it and was given the password and secret handshake.
In all seriousness, the class taught me the rules and formatting of submission, how to find markets, and how to critically analyze my own writing. Out of that class was formed my writer's critique group, the Wyrdsmiths, which I am still a member of today. In September of 2006, Wyrdsmiths will be celebrating 12 years together. Of course, we're not all the same members, but two of us—H. Couragges LeBlanc ("Harry") and I—remain. When we started none of us were published; now nearly every member is SFWA qualified. Other than Harry and I, other members are: Eleanor Arnason, Naomi Kritzer, Kelly McCullough, Bill Henry, Sean Michael Murphy, Doug Hulick, and Rosalind Nelson. It's an amazing crew. I credit them with a lot of my success writing. Not only do they solve the "writing is a lonely business" problem, but they are also a font of industry gossip, er, I mean "networking," and generally they support me and my work. Writing is hard and finishing what you write when you're first starting out is even harder. Wyrdsmiths kept and keeps me on track.
LJ: Do you think that the science fiction genre is uncomfortable with topics about gender?
LM: I would say anyone who says that hasn't read enough SF.
I can, in fact, credit science fiction with my own exploration of gender issues, and consequently coming out as a lesbian. Theodore Sturgeon's 1953 short story "World Well Lost," which I read in collection, rocked my world. It opened my eyes to the possibility that two people of the same sex could fall in love. Then along came Elizabeth A. Lynn, who kicked a lot of my gender assumptions in the ass. Not much longer after reading those works, I started having an epiphany about my own life.
Of course, my perspective could be skewed because I just came back from WisCon 30, where the award for speculative fiction that explores issues of gender is handed out. [Editor's Note: This is the James Tiptree, Jr. Award.]
It's amazing to me that we can even argue about whether SF tackles enough real-life problems. There's a lot of question out there (thinking about WisCon) about whether SF deals realistically with issues of class, etc., and what I love about SF/F is that many, many of us think it should. Do you think mystery writers get together and ask themselves if their genre represents? Maybe they do, but SF writers and readers have a certain amount of luxury to get angry about their genre. All we have to do is point to our amazing subversive history and say, "You know, that book/short story was groundbreaking. Where's our next big mind-expanding/consciousness-raising work?" And we want it, damn it, now. And, knocking on wood, eventually we usually get it.
When people detract from SF in my presence (and they do, I now teach at the above-mentioned literary center), I explain this phenomenon to them. Of course, so many people think SF is what they saw fifty years ago on pulp covers, not realizing that one of those big-breast women covers belonged to, say, Eleanor Arnason's A Woman of the Iron People or even the collection of Jewish SF, Wandering Stars.
LJ: What is your take on "genre"—do you prefer the different setups for different story elements or are you comfortable with an umbrella term like "speculative" fiction?
LM: I flaming hate the term "speculative" fiction. It reminds me of the literary snobs who want to "elevate" the SF/F they consider worthy so that it doesn't have to rub shoulders with Star Wars novelizations and other works they consider pulpy trash. As someone who would happily read both, and, to be perfectly honest, I would never have started reading more serious SF/F if it weren't for such genre gems as Han Solo's Revenge, I say be proud of your genre ghetto! I don't understand the people who worry about being classified as one thing or another. Genre labels are just a tool for finding readers. It doesn't always work, but I can't see an alternative. My experience as a reader is that I need those genre classifications so I can find the stuff I want to read in the bookstore or in the library. I would be irritated to walk into a bookstore and have to fish out my SF/F from all the other novels in print. Similarly, when I'm in the mood for a romance or a mystery, I want to be able to find those fast.
There are things about SF publishing that frustrate me. I think it's especially hard, right now, to sell SF. Our genre is going through one of its drier periods. My only answer to that is to buy as many SF books as I can afford, and encourage my friends to do the same and wait it out.
LJ: You recently attended the 30th anniversary of WisCon. That must've been an entertaining couple of days.
LM: It was. I love WisCon because the arguments there are fierce and meaningful and deeply silly. This WisCon was even more amazing because so many of the previous guests of honor were in attendance.
My big fan grrl moment at WisCon 30:
In between panels I desperately had to go to the bathroom, so I stopped at the second floor women's and, no surprise, all the stalls were busy. I waited and waited and did the little I-have-go-potty dance. I finally hear the telltale flush. Someone is done! Out of the stall comes Ursula K. LeGuin. We pass each other without comment, only I'm thinking, "Holy Mother! I'm going to piss in the same pot as Ursula K. LeGuin."
I sat there, doing my business, thinking alternately how cool and how sad it was that I was so excited to be getting butt-cooties from Ursula K. LeGuin.
Yes, I'm a pathetic fangirl.
LJ: What are you working on right now?
LM: Two things. The first is the sequel to Tall, Dark & Dead, tentatively entitled Dead Sexy. The other is a proposal to a lesbian small press (Bold Strokes Books) of lesbian space opera—Honor Harrington meets Kiss of the Spider Woman or something like that.
LJ: If you had the opportunity to collect an anthology of stories, what type of tales would you ideally be looking for?
LM: If I could edit any anthology? Muslim stories in SF. There are already some good ones ("Written in the Blood" by Chris Lawson), but I think it would be a fun companion to Wandering Stars and such like.
LJ: What do you feel are your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to storytelling?
LM: I suck at plot and I'm not very good at ending things. Nearly every reviewer of every novel I've written (including the newest) complains that I wrap things up too quickly, and I think they're right. I blame Marvel Comics. I read a lot of comic books as a kid and they are the quintessential never-ending story. Comic books are soap operas for fanboys and -grrls.
Strengths? Who can say? I strive to be good at surprising the reader with what my first agent used to call "weird, but compelling" characters.
LJ: Have you ever received malicious feedback about something you've written?
LM: Of course, but not the way you'd think. The religious right, who have every good reason to send me hate mail, never have. I suspect that's because I'm so not on the radar of those folks.
I have one review that sticks in my craw. Unfortunately, it's from a peer, so I won't name names. But, the "Ouch! Hey! That's not fair!" line was "Less of Morehouse would be better." Seemed gratuitous to me.
LJ: If you could have a cup of tea with any writer, dead or alive, who would you choose?
LM: Doreen Cronin. She wrote Click, Clack, Moo, a highly subversive children's story about union organizing and collective bargaining, which my son adores (although admittedly he likes hearing me sing "Solidarity Forever," which I do at the end). I really just want to be the annoying fan and complain to her that Giggle, Giggle, Quack was not the follow-up I was looking for and had really hoped she would tackle non-violent resistance next, since the ducks don't own the means of production (as the cows do the milk) but, in point of fact, are the product. It could have been wonderful, if only she'd asked me.
If she was unavailable for tea, I'd ask John Milton.
LJ: What are you currently reading, watching, and listening to?
LM: I'm currently reading Neal Asher's Gridlinked. I just finished David Liss's A Spectacle of Corruption. I'm watching the new Battlestar Galactica and Supernatural. I'm listening to Blöödhag. Of course, what I'm not confessing to is that I'm a country-western aficionado as well. I could just as easily be listening to SHeDAISY.
LJ: What is the best advice anyone has ever given you about the publishing industry?
LM: Lois McMaster Bujold told me in an interview that I was doing with her at a Barnes & Noble as part of a science fiction festival that the smartest thing she ever did was write the next novel or novels while waiting for the first to sell. This turned out to be the single best advice I ever got, because Archangel Protocol was the second novel I finished. The first is currently shelved because, well, it reads like a first novel.
LJ: If there is one piece of advice you'd like to offer up to aspiring writers what would it be?
LM: Stay hungry.
Not literally, of course, but what I mean is, stoke whatever fires keep you writing. At the end of the day it's your passion for writing that will make it all worth it. It's a long and sometimes extremely frustrating road to publication, so you need to do what makes you happy.
Also, celebrate every success and the rejections too. I think the thing that's kept me relatively sane throughout my writing life is that I use every excuse to throw a party. When I sold my first short story I had a party. When I sold my novel, I had a party. When I thought my writing career was over I held a wake. Then, when it was resurrected, I had a party. Now, every time my editor sends me good news about Tall, Dark & Dead, I pop a bottle of champagne or otherwise come up with an excuse to eat tiramisu. That way, when it's all over, I can say, "Damn, but that was fun."
LJ: Complete the sentence—a happy writer is a . . .
LM: Dead one?
Writers have no business being happy. We're leading the intellectual life, after all. It should be fraught. We should be always be a little bit afraid, because if you're not scared, you're not challenging yourself.