Episode #269: Writing Speculative Fiction — Interview with Cadwell Turnbull

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Podcast

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.

About Cadwell Turnbull

Cadwell Turnbull is a graduate of the North Carolina State University’s Creative Writing M.F.A. in Fiction and English M.A. 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. His Asimov’s short story “When the Rains Come Back” made Barnes and Noble’s Sci-Fi & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup in April 2018. His Nightmare story “Loneliness is in Your Blood” was selected for The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. His Asimov’s novelette “Other Worlds and This One” was also selected by the anthology as a notable story.

His debut novel, The Lesson, is a work of speculative fiction and is available now. Visit his website, or connect with him on Twitter.

The Lesson 

An alien ship rests over Water Island. For five years the people of the US Virgin Islands have lived with the Ynaa, a race of super advanced aliens on a research mission they will not fully disclose. They are benevolent in many ways but meet any act of aggression with disproportional wrath. This has led to a strained relationship between the Ynaa and the local Virgin Islanders and a peace that cannot last.

A year after the death of a young boy at the hands of an Ynaa, three families find themselves at the center of the inevitable conflict, witness and victim to events that will touch everyone and teach a terrible lesson.

Turnbull’s novel explores the nature of belief, the impact of colonialism, and asks how far are we willing to go for progress? Breaking ground as one of the first science fiction novels to be set on Saint Thomas, in the Virgin Islands, The Lesson is not only a thought-provoking work of literary social fiction, but also vividly draws the community of Charlotte Amalie, the author’s hometown.

If you decide to check out the book, we hope you’ll do so via this Amazon affiliate link, where if you choose to purchase via the link DIY MFA gets a referral fee at no cost to you. As always, thank you for supporting DIY MFA!

Link to Episode #269

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