AUTHOR INTERVIEW: M Evan MacGriogair

"I think some people expect that sensory stimulation only goes one way: overload. But we frequently have good stims that can be tactile, sight-based, sound-based, movement-based--anything."

Evan (who also writes under the names Emmie Mears and Maya MacGregor) sings and writes in Gàidhlig and in English. You can find their bilingual work on Tor.com, in Steall (summer 2021), and Uncanny Magazine, with poetry in Poets’ Republic and elsewhere. Evan sings with the Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association, the Alba choir, and Fuaran. They live in Partick with two cats and dreams gu leòr.

Tell me about a recent work you released - a short story, a poem, a book, a game. What one work of yours do you hope readers will go out and read today? What's it about?

I wrote a short story toward the end of the summer of 2019 that was, at the time, intensely personal and difficult to write due to life circumstances. It sold quickly to Uncanny Magazine, and it came out in summer 2020, and rereading it during edits was similarly intense. It's about despair and finding hope, in being willing to be present to feel when everything is overwhelming you. It's called "A Pale Horse", and it is intricately tied to climate change and to Gaelic, which to me are inextricably linked due to the threat of rising seas against our few (and dwindling) Gaelic-speaking communities that remain in the Western Isles. To me also, the language is interwoven with so much acknowledgement of worlds within our own and outwith and the sense that we can see them if we are willing, which is something central to this wee story as well. You can read it here: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/a-pale-horse/

Tell me about a special interest of yours. Have you found yourself incorporating your special interests into your fiction?

It will probably come as no surprise that Gaelic is one of my special interests. I have wanted to learn it since I first encountered it as a child, but in Montana before the internet was ubiquitous, there were no chances. I learnt the language to fluency in about two years, and six months later completed my Highers in fluent Gaelic. I had barely begun when I started writing in Gaelic--my first project in the language was a short film in Gaelic and Welsh which I still hope will be released one day! I also acted in that, and it has a strong speculative element. Additionally, Gaelic music is a huge part of my life as a chorister and as a solo singer, and creating Gaelic songs has been something that I've also worked into my fiction. "A Pale Horse" contains a bilingual poem/song, and I wrote another song that will feature in a planned Gaelic novel.

Gaelic and Scotland tend to be hugely romanticised to the point of fetishisation in the United States, and as it is a minoritised indigenous language, I try very hard not to encourage that whilst still welcoming interest in the language and our culture. We have about 55,000 speakers, and as I mentioned in the first question, the few remaining island communities where Gaelic is the language of daily life are suffering hugely under Brexit and austerity measures as well as myriad other harmful policies of Scottish land ownership (one of the most unequal land ownership situations in Europe). The fate of Gaelic is a complex and intricate root system of families, a way of life, and centuries of marginalisation. Some of my own tutors who are not as old as you might expect were beaten in school for speaking it--but despite that, Gaelic is still alive. We have a chance to turn this around, but it will take radical action on so many different fronts: climate, social welfare, housing equity, and so much more. Gaelic medium education can only do so much when kids leave the classroom and immediately are bombarded with English.

So these things factor a lot into my fiction, particularly my Tor.com novelette "Seonag and the Sea-wolves" and "A Pale Horse", but also in my Stonebreaker series (a second world fantasy) and other current projects. I feel very strongly about justice, and that intersects with Gaelic both as it pertains to the language itself and the language as it is a living connection between people and land, between a history of displacement and contemporary displacement (housing in the Highlands and Islands is a massive problem, meaning there's little to be had with a high percentage bought up for short term rentals--if you visit us post-pandemic, please do not use AirBnB).

I don't think I could possibly write without incorporating my special interests into my fiction, heh.

What one thing do you wish more speculative fiction readers knew about autism?

I think the answer to this is the same as it would be for what I want any neurotypical person to know, and I think that is mainly that autism is not a monolith, nor is it a straight line from A to B. When we say "spectrum", we do not mean a progression from "not autistic at all" to "really quite autistic, actually". If you've met one autistic person, you've met...one autistic person. I think I can boil it down into: forget everything you think you know about what an autistic person is like and get to know us without assuming we are each going to be representative of all autistic people.

The same goes for autistic representation in media--just because you know one autistic person who is one way doesn't mean others can't be different. For instance, two autistic people might both have extreme sensitivities to sound, and while one might not be able to tolerate any loud environment, another might also use certain loud environments as a stim. One might not be able to go to gigs, but the other might love them under the right circumstances. I'm like that--if I am alone with no expectation of needing to talk/listen to someone over noise and have the autonomy to leave when necessary, I love live music because I can lose myself in one sensory experience: the sound. That doesn't mean I am less autistic than someone who would find that unbearable. I think some people expect that sensory stimulation only goes one way: overload. But we frequently have good stims that can be tactile, sight-based, sound-based, movement-based--anything. One smell might trigger a meltdown for me, but another calms me. We are all different!

Have you had trouble with the publishing industry because of being autistic, and/or because of being marginalized in another way?

Yes. I've gotten some very ableist rejections on my novel that has an autistic lead, and that was really discouraging. Additionally for my non-binary characters, especially when I created a new set of pronouns for my epic fantasy. Piggybacking on what I said above, autism is on a complex precipice right now where research is only just starting to delve into gender differences, let alone considering that deficiency-based diagnostic is very flawed (and that existing diagnostics are deeply biased toward the cis white male autistic phenotype). That means that even the experts are frequently operating with incomplete information, their own existing biases, and when they have such weaknesses in understanding autistic people, the average editor or agent is likely not going to have any more familiarity unless they are close with autistic people (and again--if they've met one autistic person, they've met...one autistic person).

That said, my YA with an autistic, non-binary, queer protagonist did sell for a real advance! My editor has been willing to listen and also to accommodate my own autism when I have gotten overwhelmed or needed extra explanation. So there is hope, I think, though I am mindful also that I am white, which comes with its own privilege in terms of how gatekeepers interact with my fiction despite my other marginalisations.

What's the biggest thing about the publishing industry that you wish would change?

I dislike how much depends on the individual tastes of a handful of (usually white, straight, middle class*) Americans in one American city. I understand that editors and agents want to love a book to be able to put the effort into working on it. The process is intense and takes a lot of emotional and mental energy to edit a book and read it multiple times in multiple different versions whilst also communicating with the person who made it on how to improve it. That said, we miss out on so much work from so many communities because that handful of people doesn't "connect" with our stories--that's true across the board for BIPOC authors, LGBTQIA+ authors, disabled authors, non-American authors, and so much more. We seldom even see translations of phenomenal non-English books in the US market. So if I could change anything, it would be to magically make the publishing decision-makers representative of the world we live in, which wouldn't be a silver bullet, but it would be a good start toward something that looks a bit more like equity than we have.

That or erm...smash capitalism and have a global UBI so artists can flourish. Is this a magic wish? Can I do that?

*by US standards, more upper middle than middle