How to write like Christina McMullen

Give us the tl;dr of your life.
I’m a middle-aged, giant-sized, sci-fi and fantasy author, dog person, and optimist, who likes to bend the rules and add a bit of humor wherever I can.

Do you have a day job, other than being a writer?
I do! I was a full-time author for four years, which was nice for a while. But as time went on, I started to feel like a shut-in, so I got a part-time retail job working for a wonderful company. It’s a great mental break and, slowly, I’ve started to remember how to interact with my fellow humans again. If I could go back in time and tell teenage me — who swore off retail forever — that at 44 I’d think retail was the least stressful job I’ve ever had, she’d protest, but it’s the truth.

How do you think your writing style has changed over the years?
When I was a college student, I was a very pretentious lit major and it showed. I wrote “deep” and “meaningful” poetry, “deep” and “meaningful” stories stuffed to the gills with “symbolism” and “beautiful angst.” Later in life, I’d realize that 20-something me was a complete phony and a bit of an ass. The real me was a goofball who loves sci-fi and fantasy, and tells terrible jokes.

When I finally decided to start seriously writing again, it was the reckless goofiness that I embraced, not the pseudo-snob who once wished her name to be synonymous with the great American heroes of twentieth-century literature. I maintain that I made the right choice and keep one secret copy of everything I published in my uppity youth in order to reaffirm that belief.

Which famous author’s work would you say your writing style resembles the most?
Robert Asprin and Octavia Butler are my biggest influences. If you know anything about either of them, you’ll know that Asprin wrote campy satirical fantasy and sci-fi, while Butler wrote sci-fi and speculative fiction that was serious, gritty, sometimes uncomfortable, and always very socially aware. I like to think that I do them both justice when appropriate.

Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your stories?
Nearly all of my stories have something that is taken directly from real life, whether it’s an in-joke, reference to some conversation my husband and I had, or an all-powerful supernatural being capable of destroying reality who just happens to resemble my scruffy mutt.

What are common traps or mistakes for aspiring writers in your genre?
Never getting past aspiring. “Aspiring” means one might consider writing. Nearly everyone thinks, “I should write a book” at some point in their life. That passing thought is the act of being an aspiring writer. Putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and beginning one’s writing journey makes one a writer, period. Published or not, one word or one million, there’s nothing aspirational about that. Writing is deeply personal. There’s no right or wrong way to write, but the longer one aspires to be a writer, the longer they are putting off actually becoming a writer.

Tell us about your latest series.
I’m just now beginning to write regularly after a year off, so I don’t have a clear plan as to where things are going next, but my last series, the Kyroibi Trilogy, was a young adult space fantasy trilogy about an awkward college student who finds out the reason she’s a bit odd is that she’s an alien who’s supposed to be the key to saving her people from an oppressive galactic empire. But that’s really just the start of the adventure.

If you had to pick one author, living or dead, to review the Kyroibi Trilogy, who would it be?
Octavia Butler.

Why Butler — what do you hope she would notice about it?
My series is a light space opera with a bit of magic and a lot of politics. Without being overt, there is some social commentary, especially in regards to women’s rights, LGBTQ+ acceptance, and imbalances in wealth and power. Butler could be both subtle and very in-your-face with her own commentary, and she knew how to strike the balance between. I’d love her opinion on my handling of said issues.

What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
Nailing down exactly what my writing process would be. Seriously, I don’t think about it. I don’t have a routine, or a formula, or a plan. Sometimes I plot the hell out of a story and sometimes I “pants it” out in a matter of weeks, but I never really think too long about the process in either situation.

Do your stories carry a message?
Of course. I’m a firm believer that fiction, especially sci-fi and humor, has a social responsibility. All of my works have some sort of commentary on everything from important social issues down to calling out common fictional tropes that need to be addressed.

Thanks so much, Christina!

Katherine Luck is the author of the novels The Cure for Summer Boredom and In Retrospect. Her latest book, False Memoir, combines the high stakes of a gritty psychological thriller with the guilty pleasure of a sensational true crime tell-all. You can read more of her work, including the “Dead Writers and Candy” series, at

Originally published at on February 27, 2019.