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Thursday, 23 May 2013
Author interview with Mike Reeves-McMillan (revisited)
Back in April 2013, I interviewed author Mike Reeves-McMillan for my interview-only WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with fantasy writer Mike Reeves-McMillan. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Mike. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Mike: I’m a lifelong resident of Auckland, New Zealand. My father had a second career as a successful nonfiction writer – he wrote sports books – so I always knew it was a thing people could do. I love reading so much, writing came naturally, and I finished my first novel as a teenager. It wasn’t unpublishable, though I wouldn’t publish it today because my attitudes have changed so much. Also, hopefully, I’m a better writer now.
Morgen: What genre do you generally write and what have you had published to-date? What do you think of eBooks?
Mike: I did some nonfiction work-for-hire when I was working in publishing back in the 1990s. My first published novel is what I sometimes call a non-magical fantasy, City of Masks. You could also call it “sociological fantasy”, in the sense that the fantastic element is not technology or magic but the way in which the people live and organize themselves.
Then I published an SF novella, Gu, which is written as a description of a full-sensory futuristic documentary about a disruptive technology (programmable matter that can take any shape you want). Both of them were experimental, a way for me to play with ideas and writing style.
My latest book, Realmgolds, is more mainstream, steampunkish secondary-world fantasy, the first in a series, but I still set out to make it a bit different. It’s not all battles and quests, for a start. There are some battles, but they’re almost a background to the political manoeuvrings and personal alliances.
Ebooks? Ebooks are wonderful. It’s because of ebooks that I’ve got back into writing fiction again. I also read mainly ebooks these days.
Morgen: Me too. You’ve self-published – what lead to you going your own way?
Mike: Yes, all my books are self-published. In the case of the first two, they were hard to categorize, and publishers don’t like that much. I could probably have found a publisher for Realmgolds, but I didn’t want to deal with the delays in the publishing process, the lack of control over things like cover design, and the risks that come with giving someone else a major say in how your intellectual property gets developed and marketed.
Morgen: Do you have a favourite of your stories or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Mike: I’m fond of Gregorius Bass, the main character in City of Masks. He’s overweight and not too bright and nobody takes him seriously, but he’s absolutely committed to doing the right thing. The main characters in Realmgolds are also favourites. They’re both highly intelligent, nerdy book-lovers, who nevertheless have to rise to the challenge of leading their respective countries.
It’s hard to think of actors who could play my characters the way I envision them, because most actors are better-looking than they are. They’re not your usual romantic leads.
Morgen: Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Mike: Tolkien, of course. Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Harry Harrison. Heinlein. Anne McCaffrey. The usual teenage suspects for someone born in the late 1960s. Later on I gravitated more to people like Julian May, Ursula Le Guin, Terry Pratchett (I’m still a huge fan), people who not only created amazing worlds, which is what all those writers have in common, but could also write good prose and create deep, interesting characters.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, and do you plot your stories or just get an idea and run with it?
Mike: I write most days. I try to write 250 words over breakfast, but it depends how the story is going. I’m slowly moving to become more of a plotter, though a lot of the planning still happens as I type. I’m using the Seven-Point Structure that Dan Wells has popularized, which goes through a number of significant moments in a character’s arc of change, and I find that gives me a good set of guidelines without feeling like I’m on rails.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or research?
Mike: Because I worked as a publisher’s editor myself, my copy is cleaner than average, but I still make a lot of changes to the story after the first draft. I work with a development editor, Kathleen Dale, and a great group of beta readers. Mostly the changes are strengthening character motivations, giving them more scenes in which they change, and bringing out the setting more.
I don’t do a huge amount of research. That’s one of the advantages of writing fantasy – you can just make things up. I do believe, though, that the non-fantastic elements of a fantasy story should be fairly plausible, so I do spend some time trying to get those things right, the geology and so forth.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Mike: I’ve done all three. City of Masks is first person, told as a series of journal entries. Gu is second person – the idea is that you are experiencing the digital full-sensory documentary from a number of viewpoints. Realmgolds is third person, mostly from one viewpoint, though I do take advantage of the fact that secondary-world fantasy often roves outside a tight third-person-limited viewpoint.
I do try to have a viewpoint character in every scene, and to give the various viewpoint characters slightly different ways of looking at the world. After all, seeing things from other people’s viewpoints is what literature, and particularly speculative fiction, are all about.
Morgen: Yay. It’s great to meet another author who’s written in second person. :) What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Mike: My least favourite part is contacting people to ask for reviews. That’s my main promotional strategy apart from “carry on and write more books in the series”. My favourite part is when people like what I write, of course.
Morgen: I don’t do reviews but am often asked so have a list of reviewers on http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/reviews. There’s even a section for fantasy authors. :) Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Mike: I’m on Google+ a lot. I have a bunch of writers circled, mostly indies like myself, and we learn a lot from each other and encourage each other and just enjoy hanging out together.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Mike: I’m about halfway through the first draft of the next book in the Gryphon Clerks series, of which Realmgolds is the first. It’s not quite a sequel, though. It overlaps Realmgolds in time, and it follows a different set of characters who have a different perspective on the events that occur. The main character isn’t even mentioned in the first book, but without her contribution it would have gone very differently.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Mike: My website is at http://csidemedia.com/gryphonclerks. I blog about genre and storytelling, mostly things I’m learning myself from writing and reading and reviewing, and you’ll also find more about the world of the Gryphon Clerks series and the other books I have planned.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Mike: I’m looking forward to putting out more books in this series, and I have budget set aside already for editing and covers for the later volumes. I’m very open to interacting with fans, too, on what those later books might contain.
Morgen: Editing and cover costs are certainly money well spent because covers do, without a doubt, attract readers’ attention then if / when the reader does get to the book, if there are errors they’ll be moments when he or she will be brought out of the story and it may not take them long to put it down and move on, which in most cases would be a real shame. Thank you for joining me today, Mike.
I then invited Mike to include an extract of his writing…
A small dwarf caravan wound its dusty way towards the Thunder Gorge dwarfhold in the northwest of Denning. Its members, six mules, four gnomes, the dwarf in charge, and a centaur guard, had pushed hard to get to the hold before dark, but they weren’t quite going to achieve it. The night was drawing in, and the mules would soon be stumbling on rough patches of the poorly-maintained road.
The small caravan’s centaur guard was known, like all centaur caravan guards, as Muscles, though his given name was Tree. He looked away to preserve his vision as Pack of Sevenhills, the dwarf, lit the travel-globes on each beast’s harness, assisted by his gnome leader, Pot.
Muscles was picturing being beside a warm fire with a drink in his hand and out of his leather barding when he heard a ruckus from up the road. He came alert despite his weariness, and quickly strung his bow, then held it low by his side.
“Just drunken locals, by the sound,” said Pack.
“Maybe,” said Muscles. “I’m taking no chances. Things are going to get ugly down here at some point.”
Rounding a corner, they came upon a small mob of humans. They showed signs, as Pack had said, of drunkenness, but the light of burning torches mingled with the yellowish magical light of Pack’s travel-globes, and there were a surprising number of farm implements for the time of evening.
“Well,” said a human near the front of the group, “what have we here?”
“Looks like de-gen-e-rates,” slurred one of his companions, who was eyeing the mules and their burdens.
“Three-fingered degenerates and a half-beast,” agreed the first. “What do you say, boys?”
“Purity!” shouted the mob raggedly, waving their farm implements.
“Let’s get them!” the second human cried out, and they fanned out and began a ragged charge, chanting “Pu-ri-ty, pu-ri-ty” and lowering their implements like spears or raising them like swords, depending on the length of the shaft.
Muscles’ bow came up, an arrow from the quiver on his back met it, and he drew and fired in less time than it takes to blink. The first speaker, apparently the leader, fell with a cry, Muscles’ shaft protruding from his left shoulder. Almost before he hit the ground, his yes-man got the same treatment.
A couple of nearby humans faltered, seeing their two spokesmen fall. One took to his heels, and the other stumbled back and fell on his buttocks with a grunt, then, after a moment, started crawling away. Most of them, though, were too fixated on their attack to notice (and too drunk).
A third human fell to an arrow — a big man with a reasonably sharp pickaxe — before the six who hadn’t yet fallen or fled reached the little caravan.
Muscles reared, and gave his war cry. He had trained the mules well, and they swapped end-for-end and began to kick out at their attackers. One, propelled by hooves, flew through the air like a sack full of straw, struck the ground heavily and lay still. Another, faced with Muscles’ own hooves windmilling in his face, covered his eyes with his forearms and stumbled backwards, where he tripped over the big man’s body and fell down. He continued to cower as Muscles hauled his broadsword from its straps on his back, next to his quiver, and decapitated a hayfork. The hayfork’s wielder dropped it hurriedly and began backing away.
The fight had lasted perhaps sixteen heartbeats so far, and eight of the eleven were out of action. The remaining three, though, had surrounded the little knot of unarmed gnomes gathered around Pack and were beating on them with their implements. Pot fell, bleeding from his head.
Muscles bellowed, sounding more like a bull than a stallion, but there was a mule bucking between him and the gnomes. He reached over it with his long, muscular arms and slashed at the shoulder of the nearest man, at the fullest extension of the broadsword. The man blocked clumsily, but effectively, with his mattock, and it clanged.
The startled mule bolted, and Muscles surged forward and swung the flat of his blade from right to left, knocking one man out with the blade itself and a second with the sword’s grip and his large hand.
The third, the mattock man, heaved his improvised weapon up above his head preparatory to bringing it down at Muscles’ enormous chest. While Muscles appreciated his courage, he didn’t appreciate his intent. He caught the mattock on his blade with a thud that shuddered through the human’s hands, and kicked him precisely in the solar plexus with a heavy hoof.
Muscles surveyed the area. A couple more humans had fled, several were groaning more or less quietly, and three lay terminally still. The gnomes and Pack were looking stunned, a couple of them literally. Pot was sprawled at Pack’s feet, and even before Muscles bent and checked, he knew he wasn’t ever getting up again. He sheathed his sword, lifted the gnome and tucked him into one of his empty saddlebags.
“Careful!” said Pack.
“Not much point in being careful with him now, I’m afraid,” said Muscles. “Who else is badly hurt?”
There were a couple of broken arms, some bruises and a nasty concussion. Muscles scooped up the concussed gnome, rallied the others and double-timed them, with the remaining mules, in the direction of the dwarf hold. Pack was inclined to protest at leaving one of the mules lost in the darkness, but Muscles was in command under conditions of threat, and the caravan owner was overruled. “We don’t have time to look for it,” said the centaur. “Either it turns up or not. Our concern now is to get behind stone before those humans come back with reinforcements.”
and a synopsis…
The Human Purity movement is growing in power and influence in Denning, attacking dwarf businesses and caravans and inciting popular rebellion against the central government, with the passive or active support of many of the ruling Golds.
Opposing them almost alone is the Realmgold, a young man named Determined. His problem is that, even though the Realmgold is meant to be in charge, nobody is paying much attention to him.
Victory, who rules neighbouring Koskant, would love to support Determined, but an ancient magical treaty between their realms means she can’t send in her troops, her skyboats or her pressure guns. What she can do, though, is share a new magical communications technology – and her elite corps of Gryphon Clerks…
Mike Reeves-McMillan lives in Auckland, New Zealand, surrounded by trees.
He’s almost certainly the world’s only steampunk-fantasy author who holds a master’s degree in English, a certificate in health science, an Advanced Diploma of Hypnotherapy and a certificate in celebrant studies (rituals for transition through crisis). He's worked as an editor for a major publishing house, which is just one of the reasons he has no interest in being published by a major publishing house.
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