MCALLISTER is a California-based writer, writing coach, book and
consultant, workshop leader and "agent finder" for both new and
established writers of non-fiction, fiction and screenplays.
literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy and thriller fiction
have appeared in national magazines, literary quarterlies,
college textbooks and 'year's best' anthologies. His second
novel and NEA Writing Fellowship winner, DREAM BABY--the result
of fifteen years of research--has been called "one of the most
memorable chronicles of the Vietnam War." His fiction has been
translated widely and received national awards and notable
mentions in the NEW YORK TIMES, other U.S. newspapers, U.S. and
foreign magazines and journals, and reference works. His
articles on popular science, writing craft and sports have
appeared in publications like LIFE, INTERNATIONAL WILDLIFE, THE
WRITER and newspapers across the country.
an "agent finder" for his book and screenplay clients and has
recently been a consultant and writing coach to writers on film
and TV projects for studios and production companies. He has
also edited and co-edited international anthologies for major
publishers and literary presses.
been a writing coach and consultant on a wide range of popular
books for major and smaller publishers and scientific books
published by scholarly presses, including Pulitzer and National
Book Award nominees; a proposal writer and proposal consultant
to individuals and organizations in the private, public and
non-profit sectors in California; a trainer in business
communications and technical writing; a PR and media relations
specialist; and a facilitator of autobiography and memoir
writing workshops and writing-to-heal workshops for professional
organizations, life-coaching seminars and conferences,
non-profit organizations, and community groups.
University of Redlands in southern California, where he taught
writing for twenty-four years, he helped establish and direct
the Creative Writing Program, directed both the Professional
Writing track of that program and its Communications Internship
program, received various teaching and service awards, and was
Edith R. White Distinguished Professor of Literature and Writing
from l990 to l995.
interests include cultural anthropology, creativity theory,
storytelling, popular culture and popular fiction, Early Man
archeology, advertising and the media, science and multicultural
education, theory and methodology in the social and natural
sciences, the Vietnam War, U.S. foreign policy, oceanography.
The son of a career Navy officer and an anthropologist mother,
he grew up in Washington, D.C., Florida, California and Italy;
attended middle school and art school in Italy; received degrees
in English and writing from Claremont Men’s College and the
University of California at Irvine; has three wonderful children
(Annie, Ben and Liz); and is married to choreographer Amelie
Hunter. He lives in Costa Mesa, California.
PageOneLit.com: Where did you grow up and was reading and writing a
part of your life? Who were your earliest influences and why?
I grew up a Navy family. My brother and I moved every two years, and
by the time we'd finished high school--and our dad had retired from
the Navy as an executive officer for different classified-research
labs and was starting a second career as a university prof of
oceanography, physic and engineering--we'd lived in Washington,
D.C.; Key West Florida; San Diego and Palo Alto, CA; and northern
Italy, where he worked for NATO in ocean research and anti-submarine
warfare. That life--moving constantly and being by the sea and its
sense-of-wonder and sciences--was one influence for us; but our
mother was an anthropologist and prehistoric man and Southwest
Indian specialist, and that world influenced us wherever we lived,
taking us to Apache reservations, to Early Man digs in California
and France, and to inner-city sub-cultures. Between our parents our
world was the natural and behavioral sciences, but also a love of
the sea and cultures, and those influences run through my writing
and always will. Our grandmother, a watercolorist, lived with us,
moving from place to place, and her art affected us too. I started
reading science fiction and fantasy rabidly, as many do, when I was
in middle school; I lived and breathed it in California, Italy, D.C.
and California again; and that was the kind of writing I did,
publishing my first story (as many f&sf fans do) at a very early
age. I was bookish, sure, but not completely so; I loved nature and
lived in tide pools and the woods, loving sea life and land wildlife
as pure joy and sense-of-wonder. Science was simply a way to access
that sense-of-wonder. I was definitely a 19th Century naturalist--to
the point of discovering a couple of species of insects and mollusks
in my childlike love affair with nature. I mention all of this
because it was--and still is--as much an influence on my writing as
reading was. (You can find all of these influence in the most recent
McA. story published--"The Courtship of the Queen"--which is free
and online, at www.tor.com. It's a story I'm proud for many reasons.
A whole life in one story, I guess.)
PageOneLit.com: Why do you write?
Like so many writers, I write "to stay sane," whatever that means
exactly, but also to continue to find the kind of joy we feel in
childhood. Passion. Creation and completion of something as
beautiful as I can make it. And by doing this--living, thanks to
writing, with as much joy as I can--being a better gift to others in
my life, those who have my back, those I care about. If we don't
pursue our full psyches, our deeper and higher selves, we're not
fully who we are, we stagnate a little, we flatten out. Which is no
gift to anyone.
PageoneLit.com: The Girl Who Loved Animals and Other Stories is 17
stories that span five decades of your life - Let's first discuss
“The Faces Outside” - I understand this was written and sold when
you were 16 years old?
That's right. As I said, I'd been reading science fiction like the
obsessed fool so many fans are when they;'re young; I was reading a
short novel every day or two in fact. That's how writers learn their
craft unconsciously--by immersing themselves in the kind of writing
they want to do. The saying "You ca't write what you don't read"
couldn't be truer; and it's the only thing that guarantees growth
and success for a writer. In middle school in a little communist
fishing village in Italy, I'd started Latin and French, and the
"Faces Outside" came from that as well as that love of the sea I
keep talking about. It's also a sexy story--in its ingenuous
way--and I was very aware of girls when I wrote it. Somewhere
between the endless, vast, galactic empires of science fiction's
vision and being a high school student the story was born.
PageOneLit.com: I read where Dream Baby (based on interviews and
correspondence with 200 vets of three American wars who had what
they felt were ESP experiences that kept them alive both during war
and after) is considered to be the most researched novel ever
written about Vietnam. Explain?
It's probably the most collaborative war novel ever written
actually. Why? Because I didn't serve in Vietnam, though I'm of that
generation (and wanted to write a novel about it, using an
ESP-in-war slant, because that war had split my generation not to
mention the nation itself for many years), I had to rely on fifteen
years of research and interviews with 200 vets of three American
conflicts, and 30 fully committed "consultants" (many of whom became
good friends) for authenticity. Some of those collaborators felt I
"channeled" their experiences and feelings in ways not easily
explained (even the novel's writing had its own remarkable, life-saving"synchronous"
events working on its behalf--but that's for another interview), and
because I immersed myself fully in their worlds, I imagine that's
so. I certainly felt we'd accomplished what we'd set out to do when
a major reviewer called the novel "A tour dew force--one of the most
memorable chronicles of the Vietnam war." That response to an
ESP-in-war novel, too. Amazing.
PageOneLit.com: What is about the science fiction genre you enjoy?
Science fiction has been called "rational fantasy," and that trait
allows me, as one writer, to explore both science and extrapolation
(the rational) and the human heart, our capacity for wonder, even
our urge toward spirituality. As Einstein and others have pointed
out, its impossible to live a life where each day one realizes what
one didn't know the previous day and not feel that there's something
beyond what we understand. or Einstein that meant :"a cosmic
religious feeling"--a wonder, an awe, a granting something beyond
the empirical and self-centwered rational mind. Science fiction has
always, with certain authors anyway, explored the line between the
empirical and what's beyond--the line that separates the rational
from the mystic--and it's a line I've always been fascinated with.
But I'm still that kid in the tidepools--loving the sea life and
also loving science's lens on it.
PageOneLit.com: Italy is a favorite setting for your storytelling -
That village we lived in was the village where the greater Romantic
poet Percy Shelley drowned, and where, according to local legend,
Mary Shelley dreamed the dream that became FRANKENSTEIN. It had a
castle and a cove and a man who spoke by spitting air, and witches,
and snakes that swarmed at night on nearby hills. We had a hunchback
teacher who was a saint, and the village was full of a love I still
can't explain. How could I not continue to write about that place?
Any writer--any human being--would.
PageOneLit.com: You are writing coach, book and screenplay
consultant, workshop leader and "agent finder" for both new and
established writers of non-fiction, fiction and screenplays. Discuss
and tell writers how they can get in touch with you for help with
their literary projects.
I hate plugging the work I do now for a living, but, yes, I work
with new and established writers as a coach, consultant and
strategist, and enjoy it immensely--not only because I'm a writer
myself and love helping other writers, but because I come from a
long line of teachers and taught in university myself for 20+ years.
Anyone wanting to contact me can check out my website,
www.mcallistercoaching.com. Email address and cell # are there.
PageOneLit.com: What do you hope to achieve with with The Girl Who
Loved Animals and Other Stories is 17 stories?
It's a "career-spanning" collection (which sounds like a eulogy, I
realize)--it has my first story and some of my most recent and
tracks a 45-year career and therefore, to some degree, the history
of American science fiction during those decades--and is therefore
of interest to scholars in the field, they tell me. But it also has
a lot of story notes-, and those I wrote at my editor's pushing to
share the anecdotes of a life in writing and also pass along to
another generation of writers whatever tips and wisdom I might have.
PageOneLit.com: What was the last book you read?
Two books: THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy (gorgeous--a celebration of
the insistence of the human spirit against all degree of darkness)
and (re-reading it after thirty years--it's one of the most
influential books in my career, and it's not science fiction or
fantasy, but it was a Nobel Prize winner) BARABBAS by Park
PageOneLit.com: What's next?
Life got in the way of writing in the 90's, but let me return to it
in 2001. Since then, lots of short stories--science fiction, fantasy
and literary--and now, finally, novels again. Just finished a novel
called THE VILLAGE THAT SANG TO THE SEA, a "memoir of magic" about
that Italian fishing village, based on a number of short stories
published since 2004. Another fantasy--a dreamy Renaissance novel
about a boy named Emilio whose destiny it is to save the Holy City
from the Drinkers of Blood--is almost done; a novel expansion of a a
short story, "Kin," that was a Hugo Sward finalist in 20096 is in
the works, as is another short story expansion, a divine-comedy
fantasy; and I'm also working happily on an unusual murder mystery
based on a case that shook the Whiteriver Apache Reservation in
Arizona when I was a kid and Erle Stanley Gardner defended a shaman
who'd been framed for the murder of his wife. In other words, it's
good to be back.
PageOneLit.com: Do you have any hobbies? What are they? How do they
enhance your writing?
It's not surprising that a Navy kid would like traveling--which I
do--and it's not surprising that I still do what I did as a kid:
exploring the sea, the forests, Early Man excavations, other
cultures, collecting fossils and stone artifacts and sea shells--and
sharing them with others, which I suppose is what my fiction writing
is about too: sharing what life is at its most marvelous.