I met Michael, once again, on Google+. Actually, I think we met from the same “venting post” from which I met K.G., but I’m not entirely sure. I just know that Michael has detailed and insightful information on anything I pick his brain about (you’ll soon see). He’s even left some thoughtful comments on some of my prior posts (which I greatly appreciate). Another thing that’s cool about Michael is that he’s funny. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m
super, super silly and that I LOVE a good laugh/joke. I’ve gotten a hearty chuckle from his Twitter comments (when he hasn’t disappeared, hibernating with his multiple projects). Get to know more about him below:
Question 1. Name one surprising thing about you.
Answer 1. I had a constant and persistent headache that didn’t go away for years only increasing and decreasing in pain. As a by-product, it’s made me a little crazy and I think I’m psychic. Seriously.
Q2. What is your favorite movie and why?
A2. The favorite movie thing is like asking what’s my favorite dessert or food. It depends highly on my mood. Forrest Gump is up there because it tells the story of America and its people and how badly we all want love in this world. Shawshank Redemption is also high because of the brotherhood, and how even in tragedy good things can come. There are some others I enjoy like Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Dark Knight, and The Sound of Music and It’s A Wonderful Life but again, it is highly concentrated on my mood.
Q3. Who is your favorite author and what is it about his or her work that resonates with you?
A3. “Art is the righting of something, the ability to tell its truth.” A teacher once said that to me—she may have been paraphrasing someone else at the time, but didn’t say who. With that said, Stephen King is one of my favorites. I enjoy his writing because even though much of it is horror with outlandish plots, it rings true. The characters, the settings, how they interact, even their foibles all feel real. I think, unlike other authors, he allows his characters to be more human and make mistakes and do illogical things. There’s not always someone doing the expected thing in his stories, which is refreshing.
Q4. What do you think makes a story good?
A4. Hell, if I knew that, I’d be a millionaire. What makes a story good is up in the air. I’m not often too sure what I think makes a story good. I find not only myself but others seeing or reading something and connecting with it but not knowing why. Most people, most authors especially, would jump to “it’s the characters, the characters!” which is a nice sentiment, however, that doesn’t really explain the allure of things like fairy tales and old time stories so ancient they seem not to have any identifiable characters. Think about the story of Cinderella. Before Disney came in, she didn’t have much character to her at all. Sure, she had circumstances that affected her, but the core story could be changed and manipulated to have her be a thousand different things and a thousand different ways.
Then, there’s the actual story. I consider myself more a storyteller than a character analyst (not to say that the characters are thin). The story has to draw in the reader in my opinion because the characters might not be likable or alive for a long time or even be identifiable to the reader (ex. Song of Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones series). But if the story draws them in, they can withstand an evil character with no redeeming qualities or someone they can’t relate to so long as they are engrossed in wondering what happens next.
Good story is determined highly by the current prejudices of the reader. My prejudices can vary wildly from month to month.
Q5. When and why did you begin writing?
A5. It happened when I was eleven. I always had a great imagination and saw myself in the film and entertainment industry. I wanted to act. And then I learned that if I wanted story input, I had to be the storyteller, so I wanted to direct and produce but even that wasn’t enough. Getting the worlds that existed in my head onto paper was naturally the last step. Eventually, I will achieve all of these things… I’m psychic, remember.
Q6. What writing projects are you working on at the moment?
A6. Warning! System overload. Asking me that question is like asking the Pope how Catholic he is. Very! He’s very Catholic. Uh… hmm! That actually wasn’t as great of an analogy as I thought it’d be. Put it this way, I’m working on a lot of stuff.
First, I have the comedy “Yep, I’m Totally Stalking My Ex-Boyfriend” which is about a 30-something woman who is, well, you know. She’s stalking her ex-boyfriend. Come on people, keep up! That’s in editing and will be out in early October.
Next, I have an as yet untitled YA project, tentatively titled “Ghosting”—though that’s probably not going to be the title… but it could be the title. That won’t be out until next year. That is in the late stages of development (two weeks from primary typing).
There’s “The Man On The Roof,” a mystery that will totally be a bestseller (again, psychic!) which I will be trying first to take the traditional publishing route. That is currently in typing and will continue throughout the rest of the month.
There are all my other late editing projects: “The Maiden’s Cocoon” (drama/mystery), “The Knowledge of Fear” (mystery), “Cavity” (horror/humor), “A New Low” (the long-delayed sequel to A Dangerous Low), “A Negotiation of Sorrows” (long-delayed sequel to the Erotica/Legal drama A Negotiation of Wounds), and “The Writer.” The Writer’s first season is completed and currently has 12 of its 15 episodes out and online at Amazon (check the link below or search The Writer Michael Stephenson). Naturally, I think all writers and readers should read it especially since it has kicked into overdrive. It is a character-study of sorts. I’m not going to bore you with the details here, as I could talk about it all day. And finally, I am working on my most painfully personal work, Unrequited. It starts with the story of a girl I once fell in love with. That will be an actual serial novel (as opposed to an episodic novella series like The Writer) sometime next year.
Let me expand on this answer because I know people are freaking out and rolling their eyes, saying, “that’s too many projects. He can’t be working on all of them right now.” Actually, I am working on all of them concurrently. At any one given time when I am not on vacation I have at least 5-8 projects on which I am actively writing. “Well, you’re not gonna get all of them done.” Yes, I will and most of them by the end of the year (and that’s not even including the scene book for season two of The Writer coming Summer 2016 nor the scene book for another episodic novella series entitled Extraordinary coming sometime next year). Plotting and things of that nature I do in my down time after finishing primary writing. This is a way for me to never have writer’s block, keep mentally sharp, and change my mindset enough to figure out if a scene works or doesn’t and what I want it to accomplish. And no, I don’t have ADD. God, I hope that didn’t sound like bragging.
Q7. Where do your ideas come from?
A7. Just from my imagination and dreams. Very rarely will I pull from something else. Exceptions are: Unrequited is reality/fantasy, The Provocateur was assigned to me to write, and Darker, while essentially a highly influenced Stephen King work, did not originally start that way. Now, it stands as an updated version of Carrie dealing with current racial tensions. Outside of that, everything else is imagination, and only becomes “inspired by” or “based on” during the marketing phase.
Q8. What is the hardest thing about writing for you?
A8. Grammer. Its got two be that and sumtimes mispelling words. On some occasions, I have been too fixated on the proper English words and phrases and their construction that I rip the voice out of a character. Oddly, many editors I’ve had have done this as well.
Q9. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk, if any?
A9. I don’t believe I have any writing quirks. A quirk to me is something that is odd, like people who can’t start a novel without a glass of Merlot or people who put that big glob of sunscreen on the tip of their nose. You can’t rub that into your nose? Seriously? Or is that just the only place you put it. Like, your nose is gonna be the very first thing that gets sun burnt or that skin cancer will only attack the nose. And while we’re on the subject, what in the world is up with these sunburn tattoo designs? Who the hell said that was a good idea? You know what, I’ve gone off on a tangent. What was the question?
Q10. What has been one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your experiences as a writer?
A10. There are many, but I’d actually list three:
- Take writing seriously.
- Be open to new writing experiences (whether it be in genre or with partners, etc.)
- For self-pub writers have a clear goal of where you want to take it.
The first is clear, just take your writing seriously. This is a business. As much as you may be in it for yourself, your main job still is to entertain the audience that will buy your stuff.
The second is to be open to new experiences. Because of my desire to write for film, I had to learn a few lessons early. One of the biggest: partnership. I would actually recommend writing with a partner for every self-pub author at some point. Why? For one, I sincerely think this will be the trend for the independent market in the near future. Think about it, you do a few of your own independent works, then come together with another writer who has done the same. Each of you get to expose your writing to a wider audience. You partially ride the success of another. That’s why I say for writers I know to be ready next year when I write my bestseller ;).
Also, writing with someone else challenges you out of your comfort zone. You get to see how someone else works, how they process information, etc. It can force you to grow as an author. I always try to stay open to writing with others, though it is exceptionally difficult. But, again, seeing how someone else works can really ignite your own fire to tackle your writing as a business. It can also spur you to figure out if this is something you really want to devote your free time to.
For all authors, but self-pubs especially know what you want. I find many self-pub authors don’t have a plan after publishing their first, or second or even third book. What’s your end goal? Just a few years ago many self-pub and vanity authors wanted to sell enough to take the figures to a real publisher and maybe get a deal (a la John Locke). Now, that sentiment has partially faded and there is no real plan. What if nobody wants your self-pub books, what then? Do you want to be read or just published?
I always take the 50/50 rule. The rule goes: as a writer, you should aim to write between 3 and 5 books a year and self-pub two. The other books should be the ones you submit to publishers as your best work. Tons of writers will take that suggestion badly and think that I’m only publishing my inferior stories. No. You should think that all of what you write is good enough to publish. If not, don’t publish it. But you must also be judicial enough in your writing to take a less emotional look at your stories and see which ones would be the absolute best. Those, you set aside for query. Also, forget the whole “self-pub will ruin your chances at traditionals” theory. If you actually have readers, reviewing it and wanting to read more already, publishers might frown upon your indie exploits, but in the end they still want to move books, and just like in film, a built in audience is a surefire way to get real sales.
Q11. What is your writing process like?
Q11. Chaotic but concise. I go through seasons of expectation. For instance, the summer is generally my generation season. I walk a lot to keep healthy and while on my walks, I will come up with the majority of my new ideas and plots. Full scenes pop into my head, and if I find them good, then I will go back and note them down on my running outlines and ideas’ page. When I start working on them is determined by how forceful the vision is. For instance, if only one scene comes to me, I’ll jot down a few generalities, then put it on the back burner. But if a number of scenes pop into my head, then I know it’s time to actually plot it out and write it sometime within the next year; in fact, that is almost exclusively how I write. I’m not the type of person that sits and plans out the details of the scenes (there are a few exceptions, ex. The Writer). They have to come naturally for me, or else I start questioning whether those are the scenes and aspects of the story that want to be told. I feel like at some point, the stories have to naturally come and develop. The story, in most cases, tells you what it wants to say and how to say it. There are really only two times one should have a problem in the process: when you’re one-third to half of the way through and you’ve exhausted all the scenes that come to you naturally, and during the editing process.
I write fast but that doesn’t mean I’m rushing or don’t give proper care to all stories. I have tons of first draft novels waiting to be edited because I want to give them the proper care they deserve. I also don’t stop and revise/edit during writing. I separate them for two reasons: one, when the ideas are flowing, I don’t like slowing down and two, I find that sometimes you can edit and revise out something that may have been brilliant (OK, just really good; humility and stuff). I never delete anything. Instead, I will move a passage down to the end of the document onto a scratchpad because it could come in handy later in the novel. My process is fast and hectic but very concentrated on precisely what my imagination tells me should happen next.
Q12. How can readers discover more about your works (e.g. Goodreads, Amazon, website, etc.)?
And finally I have my own blog, which focuses mostly on TV and books occasionally, with a few recipes and off-topic posts on whatever pops into my mind at the time. It is going back into effect next week to align with the new TV season and I will be unloading a few book reviews from my summer reading as well. Check that here: http://r-u-notentertained.blogspot.com/
So, in conclusion, two tidbits that stuck out to me were that I should get more disciplined with my writing schedule (don’t think I can) and that I should seek out a writing partner. Hmm… Now the latter is something I’d be interested in doing.
Thanks for participating Michael! Make sure to check him to on social media and check out his stories.