I've known Mike for a while now. We both wrote zombie stories for an anthology years ago ... I remember being amazed and envious that he could write about surfing undead and not only make it funny, but turn it into a fairly touching story by the end. More recently, I was delighted to buy Mike's story "Drinker" for Heroes in Training. "Drinker" is a prequel tale to The Wannoshay Cycle, giving us a glimpse into the Wannoshay's home planet and the crisis that led them to Earth.
I'm currently reading an ARC of the book, and I'm about 3/4 through. It's a fascinating book, and I'll be posting a review soon. In the meantime, I invited Mike to come by and do a quick interview.
1. What's the secret to being, not necessarily a successful author, but a happy one?
Happiness as a writer can be tricky. Even when our writing is going great guns, we're still usually up to our elbows in the suffering of our characters, because no great writing comes without conflict. So we're being emotionally drained on a daily basis, and it's all in our heads! Makes it tricky to be happy. Real satisfaction has to come from the work itself, from challenging ourselves to improve our writing skills and experiment and push through to stellar prose and ingenious plot twists and in-depth characterization. Writers should never get comfortable with their writing. And they really need to avoid paying any attention to reviews!
2. You've written a number of stories about the Wannoshay. Heck, I bought one from you myself. What is it that makes the Wannoshay so fascinating to you and to readers?
They're so dang weird! It's been fun coming up with their society, especially the different roles each person played on their home planet, and then seeing how that translates when they reach Earth. They're not cuddly, not 100% friendly, and strange stuff happens to them if they get too much sun or take human drugs. There's an unpredictability in their alien nature that I love -- you never know what a "Wanta" is going to do (at least at first). My one concession to SF tropes is that they're humanoid in nature, which simply makes them a wee bit easier to handle than some sort of blob-like entity or a completely alien creature. And, as John Kessel said in his introduction to my story collection (which included four of the Wannoshay story, which were then assimilated into the novel), the Wannoshay are stand-ins for us, of course. The Wannoshay are The Other, the people who are so different from us, they must be feared. If only we could eradicate our own fears and get down to real understanding and appreciation of our differences... That's the real fantasy, the dream, for me.
3. Could you summarize The Wannoshay Cycle for me in exactly . . . oh, let's say 37 words.
Terrorists send people into hiding. Aliens land, try to integrate, things get worse: buildings explode, aliens rounded up, soon start getting sick. Some brave humans try to help aliens, end up at the Mother Ship. Craziness ensues.
4. Does your wife know about your involvement with this Julia Porter woman? I've done some digging, and I know you've got something going on there. Come on, share the juicy gossip with me and my readers.
Oh, she knows all right. She had a hand in Julia's creation! My wife Elizabeth dared me to write a romance novel, and I fought the urge for a while, feeling it was silly. But then I did some research into Ocracoke Island, a tiny island off the North Carolina coast where Blackbeard was purported to have been killed. His ghost still haunts the area, some say. So I came up with a female protagonist and her opposite male protagonist, and shoved them together to see what sort of sparks flew. Research included a trip or two to Ocracoke with my wife and reading some Nora Roberts novels. Not a bad way to spend your time. The result was Heart's Revenge, which came out from Five Star Books in 2006, written by "Julia C. Porter" (because nobody would buy a romance from a GUY unless he was Nicholas Sparks).
5. I loved the author photo you sent me of you and your son Drew. How do you balance writing, career, and family? (Seriously, I really need to know! ;-)
Well, I must say, the balancing act is the hardest thing I've ever done, and it's something I continue to do. I hate holing up in my office while my wife and kids are at home, because I feel like I'm missing out, so I usually get up way too early (4:45 a.m., usually) and try to squeeze in my writing before everyone wakes up. I can usually get a good hour and a half in, if I don't get distracted surfing web journals and blogs... The benefit of this is that I feel like I've taken one more step closer to my dream each weekday, while everyone else is asleep, and I can enjoy the rest of my day at the day job. On weekends, I sometimes get up early, but usually end up catching up on sleep, and maybe doing some editing during the kids' nap times. It's a tough balancing act, that's for sure. But sleep is overrated, isn't it?
And the kicker is that we just had our second child in mid-November, so my sleep is even more erratic and broken than ever before. By the time this interview runs, in January, I hope to be more coherent... But don't hold your breath!
6. If you could go back in time ten years and give Michael Jasper one piece of writing advice, what would it be?
Be patient, you damn hothead! Slow down and write your best, and not just what you think is publishable. Stop competing with other writers and start competing with yourself. And for crying out loud, become a better editor right now!! Oh, and read more. A whole lot more! I find that the more I read, the more inspired I am to write, and the easier the ideas and fun stuff comes while I write. Reading opens up my brain in a way that nothing else can. I just wish I had more time to do it (see question 5, above)!
Okay, that was a bunch of pieces of advice to my past self. My apologies. Now where's that time machine...?