269: Writing Speculative Fiction – Interview with Cadwell Turnbull

Hey there word nerds!

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Cadwell Turnbull.

His novel, The Lesson is a work of speculative fiction is about what happens when a spaceship arrives at the US Virgin Islands with a race of super-advanced aliens on a research mission on board. This story grapples with the tensions between these newcomers and the local Virgin Islanders and explores various themes, including: the nature of belief, the impact of colonialism, and how far are we willing to go for progress?

This book breaks new ground as one of the first science fiction novels to be set on Saint Thomas, in the Virgin Islands. It’s a combination of literary social fiction and speculative fiction, and it also paints a vivid picture of Charlotte Amalie, which is Cadwell’s hometown.

Cadwell has an MFA in fiction from North Carolina State University, as well as Master’s degree in Linguistics. He was the winner of the 2014 NCSU Prize for Short Fiction and attended Clarion West 2016. His short fiction has appeared in The Verge, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and Asimov’s Science Fiction and several of his stories have received honors or been nominated for Best-Of lists. I have been reading his debut novel, The Lesson, and it is absolutely un-put-downable. 

In this episode Cadwell and I discuss:

  • How a dream inspired The Lesson
  • Keeping a story character-driven while also adding speculative elements
  • The power of using–and sometimes withholding–multiple points of view 
  • Using speculative fiction to grapple with contemporary social issues
  • Blending past, present and a speculative future
  • Writing speculative fiction in an MFA program

Plus, his #1 tip for writers.

For more info and shownotes: diymfa.com/269

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