Linda H. Codega Tells io9 All About Their Queer Fantasy Debut Novel, Motheater

Linda H. Codega Tells io9 All About Their Queer Fantasy Debut Novel, Motheater

io9 has several acclaimed authors among its alumni, including Annalee Newitz, Charlie Jane Anders, Evan Narcisse, and Andrew Liptak. Another former io9-er, Linda H. Codega, will join their ranks early next year with the release of fantasy novel Motheater, and we’re thrilled to be debuting the cover and talking to the author about it today.

Here’s a synopsis of Motheater:

“After her best friend dies in a coal mine, Benethea ‘Bennie’ Mattox sacrifices her job, her relationship, and her reputation to uncover what’s killing miners on Kire Mountain. When she finds a half-drowned white woman in a dirty mine slough, Bennie takes her in because it’s right—but also because she hopes this odd, magnetic stranger can lead her to the proof she needs.

Instead, she brings more questions. The woman called Motheater can’t remember her true name, or how she ended up inside the mountain. She knows only that she’s a witch of Appalachia, bound to tor and holler, possum and snake, with power in her hands and Scripture on her tongue. But the mystery of her fate, her doomed quest to keep industry off Kire Mountain, and the promises she bent and broke have followed her a century and half into the future. And now, the choices Motheater and Bennie make together could change the face of the town itself.”

Check out the full cover below—the artist is Erica Williams, and the designer is Kensington Art Team—and read on for io9’s email interview with Codega!

Image: Erewhon Books

Cheryl Eddy, io9: What does the cover art represent (or reveal!) about Motheater’s story?

Linda H. Codega: Blue Jays are a unique part of Appalachian cunning (magic, to you lowland folk), and I was so happy to see this one take center stage on the cover. There are a lot of pieces of the story on the cover—critter skulls, moths, cicadas, and the sycamore tree. I don’t know if it reveals anything, but after you finish the book, you will certainly be able to draw some conclusions about the story based on the cover.

io9: Motheater takes place in the Appalachian mountains. What personal meaning does that setting have for you, and how does setting your novel there help shape the story?

Codega: I spent a chunk of my formative years in the mountains, and I have a lot of love for the rural Southern culture where I grew up. The Appalachian mountains are some of the oldest in the world, and they have been very badly used by industrial corporations that do not respect the land, the people who live there, or the communities. Motheater could not be set in anywhere but Appalachia. It’s so regionally specific, from the folkloric spirits that haunt the hollers to the core political conflict the story revolves around. The ideas of resistance and community are so dynamic and can often feel at odds with each other, but that struggle feels intrinsic to a lot of small Appalachian towns. Also, any excuse I can use to put a snake-handling church in a story, I’m going to take.

io9: Tell us about your two main characters, and what draws them together.

Codega: Bennie and Motheater face being “outsiders” to the place they call home. It draws them together, but it’s not a very healthy relationship. Bennie is largely responsible for saving Motheater’s life multiple times, and she really drives the story as a woman who feels as if she’s lost everything; and all she has left is this weird witch who talks to the mountain and keeps bringing bugs into her apartment. She’s making a lot of unwise decisions in the pursuit of justice. One of which ends up in her bed.

io9: What are the biggest conflicts in Motheater?

Codega: The social conflict in this book comes from the way that extractive industries have ravaged the Appalachian mountains from early coal mining operations to mountain-top removal popular in the ‘70s, to contemporary real-world pipeline projects that are currently being protested near the fictionalized setting of this book. The Appalachian region has always had resistors to exploitative and extractive industry. This book is about carrying on that tradition. Motheater was actually directly inspired by the Yellow Finch Tree Sits—a nearly three-year, continuous occupation that greatly delayed the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, which seeks to cut through the heart of Appalachia and is continually protested to this day. It’s not in the book, but I’ll say it here: Doom to the Pipeline.

Also, people are dying in the mountain in very weird ways, and Bennie’s fixing to put a stop to it. That’s the plot though, so we won’t go into it too much.

io9: What can you reveal about the fantasy and supernatural elements that are part of the story?

Codega: A lot of the magic is rooted in the Neighbor tradition that was (and still is) a very Appalachian practice. Neighbors can be thought of as hedge witches, who use both natural remedies and a folkloric Christianity-based system of work in order to perform small miracles. There’s also a lot of the magic in this book that is much bigger than that, but it’s supposed to be read as a bit… wretched. It’s not typical Neighbor work, and it’s not supposed to happen. A big question this book asks with regards to magic is, “what if a god acted like a human being?” with all the foibles, fears, and rage of a human. Gods probably shouldn’t act like humans.

io9: Is Motheater a standalone story or will it be part of a series? What excites you the most about releasing Motheater as your debut novel?

Codega: Standalone! This book is the classic debut; a little self-pitying, slightly twee, and wonderfully earnest. I love the South and the Appalachian mountains, and this book is a long goodbye to this area of the world that I’ve been missing for a decade.

Motheater releases January 21, 2025; you can pre-order a copy here.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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