Today we will be featuring another of Curiosity Quill’s authors, Michael Shean, author of Bone Wires. Michael’s novel began as serialized fiction online, an increasingly popular medium for attracting new readers. Today, I have asked Michael to join us, to talk a bit about alternative means into print as well as what it means to be an author (particularly a new author) in this increasing digital age. Thank you, Michael, for giving us your thoughts on the writing life!
Michael Shean was born amongst the sleepy hills and coal mines of southern West Virginia in 1978. Taught to read by his parents at a very early age, he has had a great love of the written word since the very beginning of his life. Growing up, he was often plagued with feelings of isolation and loneliness; he began writing off and on to help deflect this, though these themes are often explored in his work as a consequence. At the age of 16, Michael began to experience a chain of vivid nightmares that has continued to this day; it is from these aberrant dreams that he draws inspiration.
In the wasteland of commercial culture that is future America, police are operated not by government but by private companies. In Seattle, that role is filled by Civil Protection, and Daniel Gray is a detective in Homicide Solutions. What used to be considered an important – even glamorous – department for public police is very different for the corporate species, and Gray finds himself stuck in a dead end job.
That is, until the Spine Thief arrives.
When a serial killer begins harvesting the spinal tissue of corporate employees all over the city, Detective Gray finds himself plunged into the first truly major case of his career. Caught in a dangerous mix of murder, betrayal and conflicting corporate interest, Gray will find himself not only matching wits with a diabolical murderer but grappling with his growing doubt toward his employers in the dawning months of the American tricentennial. A thrilling mystery set in the same world as the Wonderland Cycle, Bone Wires is a grim trip into the streets of the empty future.
1. I have always identified with the Asimov quote: “I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I’d die.” Does this describe you? Could you say a bit about your early writing experiences?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember – ever since I was in second grade at the very least. I can say that writing has become as necessary to me as breathing, to the point that when I go without for a while I start to have some serious mental distress. Which I suppose makes me sound like a crazy person, but there you go. The unfortunate truth (for me, at least) is that when I don’t write, my already vivid dreams and nightmares grow more and more powerful, to the point that I start having waking dreams…so yeah, we can’t have that. Writing is the only way to keep these sorts of things under control.
2. Not unlike many an author, I come from an academic background where writing fiction is a somewhat closeted affair. Breaks between are sometimes inevitable. Can you talk about when you decided to “write for real”—that decision to write for publication and give this work the time and energy it so deserves? In your opinion, what does it mean to be a ‘professional writer?’
I started to “write for real” about six years ago, when my wife (then my new girlfriend) urged me to try and make something of it, having read some of my work at the time. I’ve basically been writing nonstop since then, climbing up the proverbial ladder. As for being a ‘professional writer’, that’s pretty much the definition – once you start making money doing it, you’re a professional. Mind you, that tends to work better if you bring a professional mindset to the task as well. Treat it like a job, and it will generate benefits eventually.
3. As an author and medical humanist, I am always interested in the intersections of history and fiction. I also grew up in on defunct coal mining lands in southern Ohio—and I find that my own history is incredibly valuable as inspiration (sink holes and orange water play a part in my Witchwood series) Can you tell us about how experience factors into fiction—even future fiction?
Experience is what generates stories. You can’t create things in a vacuum, after all; even the simplest stories generate their power from the experiences that you as an author have on your own or share with others. The greatest example of this, I feel, is emotional depth. Just like you can’t properly explain how to build a house without having done it, you can’t assign real emotional power to a story or characters without having similar experiences yourself – or, at the very least, the empathy to experience those emotions through others. I don’t think you can have anything at all character-driven if you don’t have that
4. I know you often have sample chapters of your work online. I do this, too, as it seems a good way to market stories. Can you speak about this—about not giving too much away but still attracting a tech-connected audience? Any other thoughts on marketing strategies?
Honestly? I’m terrible at marketing myself. There’s still that little voice inside of me that shouts DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN WHY ARE YOU PUTTING THIS OUT HERE EVERYBODY WILL HATE IT OH GOD FFFFFF and that really suppresses most self-promotion. Putting up sample chapters is kind of the coward’s way out for me; I don’t feel guilty about people buying the book, cracking it open and getting annoyed that they spent money on something that they ended up not wanting to read in the first place. The fact that it’s a good marketing technique is entirely coincidental.
That being said, I’m learning to talk more about myself and my work, and reach out to the greater audience – most people are better than I am at this, so I urge anyone reading to really get out there and try to make the most of the vast potential audience that the Internet supplies. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, whatever; it’s all out there, all to play for. If you’ve got the means to put yourself out there straight away, get on it. And if you’re like me, try and do as I do and get over yourself, even if it’s little by little, and let people know that you’re there. If folks like your work enough to buy it, chances are they’re going to want to hear what you have to say.
5. You have very character driven work—which I think is incredibly necessary. Can you talk about how characters move a narrative forward?
Well, characters to me are the anchors around which the narrative moves; events are important, setting is vital, but there’s no story without dynamic characters to drive it forward. Assuming I don’t kill them off midway, I want every major character to have moved forward in some way by the end of a book; people are fluid, they evolve and change. Characters who don’t are not really people at all, but vestigial depictions of such. That breaks the reality you’re aiming to conjure.
6. Every writer has a different writing strategy—or so I tell my novel-writing students. How do you approach the writing process? Revision? Writers’ block?
Honestly, I don’t have much of a formal process. So much of my material comes from either dreams or wholly-formed flashes of inspiration that the procedural method – outlines and such, say – don’t really work well for me. I’ve learned to simply write through to the end before revisions; the first half of my first novel took forever to finish, primarily because I kept going back and doing surgery before it was even complete. Don’t do this! Hammer the whole thing out, every day, even a few words at a time, until it’s done. You have to treat it like a job, something that you have to do every day, else you’re never going to approach any of the proliferation that’s swiftly becoming a necessity for successful authors these days. There are too many worlds spinning in the mind of the average author, begging to be forged.
And as for writer’ block? Put the pen/keyboard/whatever down, go out, read something or otherwise liberate yourself from the task. Put the thought of the story out of your head; Zen the hell out in whatever way you prefer. You’ll most likely find things a bit easier when you return – and even if you don’t like what’s being written, push on. After all, that’s what revision (post-completion, of course) is FOR.
7. As the mentor for a university writing club, I often preach to my students about the value of networking and workshopping. Could you say a bit about your own responsive readers and mentors? Your approach to criticism?
First of all, I think it’s vital that authors – especially starting ones – do not fear criticism. Fiction is art, and like all art there are going to be people who love it and people who hate it for reasons that you aren’t going to understand. Stop trying. If you get a critical review, try and dig something useful out of it, but don’t let it break you. If you’re the sort that broods over a skinned knee or a sour look, you’re in for a world of hurt if you don’t learn that straight away. I’ve learned to welcome my critical reviews, because when it comes down to it even the most wrathful and cutting criticism can reveal something that you can use to become a better writer. Better writing is what you should be aspiring for, right?
As for networking and workshopping, it’s the same for writing as it is any other trade or field of business: opportunity is extremely limited in a vacuum. I can’t speak for workshops, as I’ve never attended any, but meeting other authors and networking with them is a very powerful tool for success. Don’t be that dude what hides in a hole from everyone else. With the power of the Internet at your hands – at the very least – there is no excuse for being a hermit.
8. Do you have advice for new writers on “breaking in” to the publishing world? Or upon the need/value of agents?
I think that there are several methods of getting into publishing that just weren’t around, say, twenty years ago. I haven’t had an agent yet; in fact, I started self-publishing my first novel, Shadow of a Dead Star, after receiving a boatload of complimentary but ultimately final rejections from a whole host of them. No requests for partials, nothing. So I got aggravated and just decided to self-publish, which led me to my current publisher. So self-publishing is a way to step into the stables of publishers, especially if you can cultivate a decent following; many self-published authors don’t bother with publishers at all.
Obviously, self-publication isn’t for everybody. My experience with the traditional publishing industry would seem to indicate that writing along marketable lines and genres is the best thing for a new author wanting to break in to the proverbial business – because it is a business, with the same kinds of supply and demand rules that cannot be denied. So don’t deny them. That might sound a little cynical on my part, but I feel it’s a bit of realism that so many people don’t have when trying to step into that greater sphere.
9. Who do you consider your inspiration? (Literary or otherwise?)
Cripes, I have too many to name – obviously cyberpunk and noir authors influence my style and current chosen genre, but my philosophical (if not spiritual) influences come directly from people like Aurelius, Aquinas, Zeno, etc. My protagonists tend to questioning everything, but dealing with what they uncover with some degree of stoicism at the moment. I’m looking forward to exploring different methods of coping with crisis in future books, however.
10. Finally, are there any forums, books, blogs or other sites and services you would recommend to new writers?
I don’t know about blogs, books or forums, but I do recommend Querytracker (http://www.querytracker.net) for those authors seeking to find an agent to represent them. While my experience has yet to find me with one, it’s an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to find the right agent for their work!