Interview – Award-winning speculative fiction author Michael G. Munz
Self-Publisher’s Showcase: Today we are joined by award-winning speculative fiction author Michael G. Munz. Welcome to the Showcase Lounge, Michael. Do make yourself at home.
Michael G. Munz: Thanks! (Though do you really want me to leave unfolded laundry on the chairs and writing notes scattered about the lounge?)
SPS: For anyone out there unfamiliar with you and your work, can you let our readers know a little bit about yourself?
MGM: I’m just a kooky guy from Seattle who likes to tell stories set in places mostly like our world but tweaked in some way. Sometimes that’s jumping forward 50 years to write sci-fi, sometimes it’s more to do with Greek gods at your local Starbucks. I love to catch someone up in a story I’m telling. I’m also a bit of a geek-of-all-trades: exposed to many sides of geek culture, expert in only a few. Oh, and I can leap tall buildings in a single bound, provided that building is very thin and I have access to a very, very long ladder.
SPS: While in college you wrote and filmed four amateur films. What gave you the push to move onto writing novels?
MGM: I wanted to be able to entertain more people, and figured I could likely reach more people via books than movies. (This was before the days of YouTube and today’s greater tools for making such things.) Plus, while I enjoyed making the movies, dealing with scheduling, props, actors, and all of the other things that go into a film beyond the writing was a huge task. I’ve always enjoyed writing stories. The movies were just a way of bringing my writing to life. I suppose a more accurate question might be why did I stop writing stories to make some movies?
SPS: Your first novel was A SHADOW IN THE FLAMES (Book One of the NEW AENEID CYCLE) a sci-fi thriller. Can you tell us about the novel?
MGM: A quick way to describe it would be that it’s cyberpunk with a touch of The X-Files. At the novel’s heart is the character of Michael Flynn, a young man who’s lost nearly everything in his life but his dreams and his roommate, an older man whom Michael believes could help him to make something of himself as a member of a futuristic caste of knights errant called “freelancers.” They lose the apartment they share to arson, and soon Michael finds himself working with his roommate when they’re hired to track down the vigilante believed responsible. It’s a task that will force him to face a far more personal crisis. While it’s set primarily in the fictional city of Northgate, certain plot threads have ties to a discovery in the Aristarchus crater on the Moon.
It’s the first in the series, but the plot and character arcs are both self-contained, so the book stands on its own.
SPS: And what can we expect from the lead character Michael Flynn, why does he so desire to make a difference?
MGM: A lot of it is just who he is and the way he was raised. His uncle was a good man who took him in after his dad ran off and his mother died, and that made an impression. He sees value in helping people, and he’s got a lot of ideas in his head about the nobility of protecting others through strength. As a boy, he idolized the man who becomes his mentor at the start of the book. As for what to expect, well, he’s young. He’ll make mistakes, and he’ll struggle to find the strength to see through some of his own illusions enough to become the sort of man he wants to be.
SPS: All is not as it seems though, with both Michael’s mentor and the person responsible for burning their apartment down. How much do you enjoy creating the complexities of characters?
MGM: Show me a writer who doesn’t enjoy creating complex characters and I’ll show you someone who’s in the wrong line of work. I love it. It’s a challenge at times, of course. I have to watch to make sure there’s enough lurking beneath a character’s surface to keep him or her from becoming a caricature, but it’s great once they’re established. That’s when you get to throw them together in interesting ways (or throw interesting things at them) and see how they react. It’s a bit like bowling, except you’re not so much trying to knock the characters/pins down as you are making them bounce around in interesting ways.
SPS: August 20th saw the release of the sequel (and Book 2 in the NEW AENEID CYCLE) A MEMORY IN THE BLACK. Did you find the writing process easier second time around?
MGM: Easier in some ways, harder in others. A Shadow in the Flames already established many of the characters. I was therefore free to dive deeper into them, examine their motivations further, and allow them to deal with the events of the first book. On the other hand, I had somewhat less freedom with regard to certain things that I’d established previously. A few self-made problems had to be worked around.
SPS: How do we see the story progress in this new instalment? Did you enjoy further developing your main characters whilst introducing new ones?
MGM: A MEMORY IN THE BLACK gives readers a lot more development with what’s happening on the Moon, and multiple plot threads (which is to say, all of them) come together along those lines. Many characters deal with the ramifications of their experiences in A SHADOW IN THE FLAMES, often facing things they don’t want to face. It was great to delve deeper into some characters. One particular character, only seen from the outside in ASITF (I don’t want to say who for fear of spoilers for who survives book one), becomes a point of view character, and it was interesting—and a little exhausting—to write from inside that character’s mind.
There are, of course, a number of new characters as well…
SPS: How far do you plan to take the series and do you have future novels and an ending planned out? Is it going to be a trilogy or can we expect more?
MGM: I’ve always planned it as a trilogy, though I’ve been careful to be sure that each book has its own self-contained plot and character arcs. Book three, which I’m working on now (working title: A Dragon at the Gate), will be an ending. That said, there are possibilities for books taking place afterward, perhaps separated by a century or more. There’s something big on the horizon for book three, and things won’t be at all the same afterward.
SPS: You recently made the decision to make Book 1 in the cycle permanently free. Can you tell us why you made that decision?
MGM: The best advertisement for my writing IS my writing. The biggest challenge at this stage in my career is finding readers to connect with. Is someone going to take a chance on buying my book based on a cover blurb and some reviews? Perhaps. But I’m going to get a great deal more readers willing to give me a shot if they can try me out for free. With two books available, if I make the first free and readers enjoy it, they’re far more likely to buy the second book, and I’ve increased my exposure, which is my main goal at this point. Few successful writers became so overnight. Usually it’s a long, steady climb.
SPS: You also enjoyed a very productive free couple of days for book 2, you must have been incredibly happy with the results.
MGM: I was! A MEMORY IN THE BLACK was the #7 free book in Amazon’s entire catalogue, and A SHADOW IN THE FLAMES, by association, even cracked the top #100. Over 16,000 people got a copy in the span of two days. Like I said before, the most important thing for me just now is exposure and word of mouth, and so it’s a great feeling to know that I’m getting that many people interested in my writing.
SPS: Other than the New Aeneid Cycle, do you have plans to work on anything else?
MGM: I’ve actually written two other manuscripts that I hope to publish in some way or another. After writing A MEMORY IN THE BLACK I decided to take a break from that series and focus on writing a stand-alone novel or two in hopes of getting them published in more “traditional” ways. The first of those, tentatively titled MURDERING ZEUS FOR FUN AND PROPHET, is my favourite out of all that I’ve written. It’s a comedic fantasy adventure set in a version of our world where reality TV heroes fight actual monsters and the Greek gods have their own Twitter feeds. The second is a more serious contemporary fantasy about an American in Britain who meets a pickpocket claiming to possess his dead girlfriend’s stolen memories.
Look for more info on those two soon, by the way…
SPS: Do you think that you will always write in the Science-Fiction/Fantasy genres or do you aim to produce in others?
MGM: Sci-fi/fantasy is really where my head is. I don’t like being confined to reality. I like to dream and ask “What if?”
SPS: You recently updated the cover to A Shadow in the Flames. Can you tell us a little about the cover designer (who also did the cover for book 2) and also how important you feel it is to have a quality cover in selling your work?
MGM: My designer for both covers was Amalia Chitulescu. I first worked with her to create the cover for AMITB, and I liked her work so much that I decided to ask her update the cover for ASITF so there’d be a similar look across the entire New Aeneid Cycle. She’s done other covers as well, and she’s great to work with. (Check out her stuff on www.facebook.com/Amalia.Chitulescu.Digital.Art.)
With it being so easy to publish digitally, a quality cover is essential in helping you stand out. Like it or not, people do judge a book by its cover. It’s the first thing to catch their eye when they’re browsing. While A SHADOW IN THE FLAMES sold copies before I did the cover update, I’m much more confident (and proud) to have the revised cover up there.
SPS: Going slightly more generic now, can you describe for us your perfect writing conditions.
MGM: While I can write at home, my preference is to write at a café somewhere, and I do tend to be picky. I like places with a warm visual atmosphere (lots of browns, reds, oranges, etc.) that aren’t too crowded but still have some life to them. I don’t quite know what it is, but somehow the activity around me is inspiring. On the other hand, I have to get a table where I can write without someone directly behind me. I suppose I’m a tad neurotic in that regard, but I get uncomfortable if I feel someone can see my writing AS I’m writing it, even though rationally I’m sure they’ve got better things to do than peek at my screen/paper.
That said, I’d be willing to try writing from a beach in Hawaii should someone wish to sponsor that. Don’t want to rule anything out before trying it, do I?
SPS: If you could give one piece of advice for someone looking to get into writing, what would it be?
MGM: Educate yourself about the business side of things. There are a lot of great resources out there on the Internet for that. Read agent and publisher blogs. Go to writing conferences. Seek out successful writers on social media to ask for occasional advice. (@BrianRathbone is a very helpful guy, by the way.) Figure out how things work, or—given how fast this business is changing lately—how things are going to work. Don’t rely on your assumptions in that regard or, worse yet, TV shows where one of the characters gets a book published that they wrote the night before.
And, of course, WRITE! But you likely knew that part already.
SPS: Before we bring this interview to a close, it’s your chance to name-drop. Anyone who you feel is deserving of more recognition at present or someone whose writing you have recently enjoyed? Now is your chance to spread the word…
MGM: JM Guillen. I recently read a novella of his called THE HERALD OF AUTUMN. It was fantastic. Poetic, exciting, and scary. I highly recommend it.
SPS: Thank you for joining us today Michael, and good luck in the future.
MGM: And thank you! Sorry about the spilled grape soda on your carpet there. I’m pretty sure that’ll buff right out, though…
SPS: It hadn’t gone unnoticed… For more information on Michael and his work please do visit his Author page, and if you are looking for a great Science-Fiction/Fantasy read we highly recommend picking up the first two books in the New Aeneid Cycle.