|Mike is the one on the left.|
Ana: Michael, an excerpt from your novel “Angel Falls” was submitted in the ABNA 2010 contest. I remember your excerpt being the “darling” of the Amazon Vine members - at least two different judges compared you favorably to Douglas Adams of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fame.
For myself, I was blown away with your incredible characterization of narrator Lucifer and your wonderful world-building of Hell. You’ve taken these two incredibly polarizing and negative concepts and turned them sympathetic and humorous: Lucifer comes across as an amoral and snarky anti-hero, not so much evil as just a delightful mix of ambition and apathy - sort of the Zaphod Beeblebrox of the spiritual world. This Lucifer’s version of Hell has been completely renovated as this fantastically huge afterlife where people are pretty much free to party, philosophize, or mope as the mood takes them.
Can you tell us more about your novel and where it goes from the end of the excerpt? What sorts of themes do you explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience?
Michael: This may get long-winded... Off the top of my head, I don't quite remember where the excerpt ended, but the basics are: Lucifer is determined to relax and do as little as possible. After all, if he's supposed to be against God (and God's Greater Plan) then he should have no ambition to punish the "damned" and no desire to fulfill any other prophecies written about him. The trick to the book though, is that God's plan is absolute, and no matter how Lucifer tries to avoid being part of it, he's stuck for the ride.
I'm working from the idea that there is no absolute "right answer" when it comes to who or what God is. There is the "God" that is currently in charge of (to borrow the late great one's phrase) "Life, the Universe, and Everything", and there are all of the forgotten or slowly dying Gods that came before him. Lucifer's day is basically ruined when one of these ancient Gods (the Aztec Jaguar) decides he wants one more shot at controlling the universe. He's basically found a loophole that would allow a rift to form in the gates of Heaven, thus allowing him entry, and once inside, he can try to usurp God's throne.
Jaguar's plan involves tricking a recently departed soul (who happens to be a ditzy socialite) into becoming the key to opening the gates of Heaven. He hires a pair of assassins (Cain and Abel) to protect her and also to keep Lucifer occupied. Of course, that means Lucifer will never get his chance to reign in Heaven, so he has to get off his lazy duff and find a way to stop this meta-apocalypse. He gathers a ragtag team of mythical favorites:
Goliath the Philistine: The Muscle
Monkey: The Mischievous Chinese legend (and in this case, the wheel man)
Eve, the mother of Creation: The only woman he's ever loved.
From there, it's a race against time as Lucifer has to figure out who's behind this plan and how to stop him.
Theme-wise, the book itself is tricky to describe. I've always been fascinated by dead religions and ancient myths. In Lucifer's journey, he comes across these old broken Gods, people he's basically taken mercy on and given menial jobs in Hell. Some of them have gone crazy, some of them have built new cults for themselves using scrap metal and small animals, and others just brood and write bad revenge poems.
Love is probably the biggest theme, love and destiny. Lucifer has to give up a lot of things - his narcissism, the woman he loves, and possibly his spot on the throne, to save the one person he loves - but those details I'll leave as surprises for when the book is published...
Ana: Wow! I love that you've taken the novel into a Fantasy Kitchen Sink direction - I have to think that the Aztec Jaguar would be a fantastic foil for Lucifer. What was your inspiration when writing your novel? Were you influenced by a specific author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre?
Ana: Your novel is titled “Angel Falls” and refers in part to the location where Lucifer fell from Heaven and cried a lake of tears. In your novel, Lucifer as a character is sympathetic and yet still feels terribly “real” to his established mythology. How difficult was it to take this usually “evil” character and transform him into a protagonist?
Michael: I've always wanted to write about myths and their survival into the present day, and I like to take the contrarian view of things. From a strictly literal standpoint, why must we believe Lucifer is a horrible guy? Because the book says so? Well, the book was written by the winner of the fight, and there's always two sides to every story (I know this sounds suspiciously like I'm advocating Satanism here...). I think he's a handy scapegoat for the ugly side of humanity. People are obsessed with him though. How many stories have been written about Hell, demons, Lucifer? And how many that take place in Heaven? The rebels are always more interesting. I do try to make him sympathetic, but he's still a self-centered jerk. His vanity and concern for saving his own hide at the expense of others carry him through the book.
Ana: But, as you say, self-centered rebel jerks can be so much more interesting than pure-hearted perfect protagonists. *grins* Is this your first or only finished work, or have you written other novels? If you have written other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?
Michael: This is my third finished novel. I'm at work on my fourth and fifth at the moment, each vastly different from the last. Nothing's out there for sale yet, but reading about Amanda Hocking's insane success in the Amazon eStore has gotten my brain turning about finding a way to do a Kindle-release of my second book in segments, just to see how it goes. The publishing world is changing, but I think people have learned a great deal from the music industry collapse and there's a great chance to be ahead of the curve for people who can find away to jump on it. "Vanity Press" and "self-publishing" used to seem like slurs for writers, but now they're great tools for forward-thinking and motivated authors. The drawback, of course, is that anybody can do it, but the quality writing will find its way to the right hands.
Ana: I've purchased Amanda Hocking's books from the B&N Nook-store myself - I'm so thrilled that her actions are really re-writing the unwritten rules for self-publishing. I was first introduced to your novel through the Amazon Breakthrough Award contest of 2010. What prompted you to enter the contest, and what were your overall feelings towards the contest in general?
Michael: It was a perfect storm of timing. I'd just managed to break through a couple of issues I had with the manuscript and finished it in December, and then someone reminded me of the ABNA contest, so I thought... why not? I had no aspirations for success with it, but the fact that the first round was based on a pitch sealed the deal. I needed to hone the book pitch, and that seemed like a great way to test it. I liked the contest experience, but the waiting is supremely frustrating. Knowing you made it to the next round is a fantastic feeling, but by April, I realized that I'd lost four months of time that I could have been sending the MS to agents and publishing houses, so my internal self-promotion machine (which is lazy on the best of days) had lost all momentum by the time I made it to the quarterfinals. Then again, it did get the book, or part of it, in front of people (which is why we're having this talk now), so that's a good thing. I think the ABNA community was very supportive of each other, so again, it got authors talking to each other, and hopefully sharing their works and critiques.
My degree is in playwriting, and when I stopped getting script ideas, I turned to novels. I'm part of an online writers group (Write Club) that's basically a small, closed community, and it's a great proving ground for works in progress. It's the whole "write the first draft with your heart, the second with your head" thing. There were some authors in ABNA that were strangely defensive about not making the next round of the contest, insisting that there should be investigations, etc. Some people like your stuff, and some people won't. My advice to people thinking about ABNA, especially if it's your first novel, is to find a group that will be gently brutal to you about your writing. Hearing people tell you they liked your work or what their favorite parts were is nice, but it will do little to help you in your drafting process. When you show your work to someone for feedback, you should also give them a set of questions, things that YOU need to know about your work in order to make it better.
Ana: Are you currently published or self-published? Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? If you’re not currently published, how can readers “sign up” to be notified when your novel does become available?
Michael: Nothing's out in public just yet. I have some short stories published over at Colored Chalk. I don't update my personal site too much lately because writing's been my main focus, but you can see a list of some of my short stories at Monkeywright.
I've just started up a litzine called ThunderDome. That will probably be the best place to look if something good happens publication-wise, and also if you want to read some great short stories (or submit your own work!). This month's issue features a story by Bram Stoker Award nominee Stephen Graham Jones, and there's some great new voices in there.
Ana: Michael, thank you so very much for being willing to participate in this guest blog interview. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Michael: Thank YOU for remembering me. I've never looked at writing as a way to get fame, notoriety, or money, but more as a way to connect with people for a few minutes, to have this shared experience of creating a world together. The stories in my head probably look much different in the reader's head, and yet we're building from the same set of instructions... pretty cool stuff.
There's also a REALLY cool independent publisher called Brown Paper Publishing, run by the inimitable Pablo D'Stair, and he did an extensive back-and-forth interview with me on the creation process behind Angel Falls in a collection called Predicate. It's available online as a FREE pdf (for the time being...) or you can get handsome print copies for $6.50.
He's on to some really cool ideas over there in terms of getting words in front of readers, literally giving stuff away, and the authors of BPP are a collection of diverse and strong voices.