Good morning Readers, as promised, another author interview. Today I have Mike Wood talking about music, Blyton and understanding that the reader cannot read the authors mind.
Mike is an active member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA); a professional organization for authors of science fiction, fantasy and related genres. He has won a number of awards including, Writers of the Future 2008 and the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest 2007. His SF short stories have appeared in Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Lamplight, Ray Gun Revival, The Best of Jim Baen’s Universe II, Murky Depths and on StarShipSofa. He also, on occasion, writes travel articles in UK camping magazines. He lives on the Wirral with his wife who is an artist.
I first met Mike about two or three years ago, when I joined Wirral Writer’s. He has, I believe, the rare combination of skills – being able to listen, properly, and diplomacy.
Hi Mike, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog; Flailing Through Life…
Me:And talking about flailing; Do you ever find yourself ‘flailing through life’?
Mike:Ha! Always thought I’d reach an end to the ‘flailing’ part of life when I retired from my day job. I’d have lots of time to get on top of my reading and spend most of the day writing, that sort of thing. I’m six months on from retirement now, and it’s as hard as ever to carve out enough time to do all the things. Now I have added book marketing to the mix it seems harder to fit it all in than before.
Me: For readers who don’t know, Mike plays sax in a swing band; is that correct Mike? Does your music have any influence on your writing or vice-versa?
Mike:There has been a lot of study about how music helps the learning process. Something about how the brain is wired. I do find that when I’m stuck with a plot point or I’m at a juncture in a story where I don’t know which way to turn, a night out with the band seems to put everything right, and the solutions to problems just drop into place. Or maybe it’s just the night’s sleep afterwards that does that.
One aspect where writing and music mesh, though, is in performance. I write a story. I read it. Edit it. Submit it somewhere. After it’s rejected I’ll submit it again… and again. When the story ends up in print it can often be months or years old. The feedback from readers, while always welcomed, arrives long after the creative process has ended. It is extreme delayed gratification. On the plus side, however, that story is out there, and the feedback endures.
Music is the opposite. I might play, for instance, an improvised solo. I can sense if it’s working or not through the notes I’m playing and through the instant and continuous feedback from the audience. When the music ends there is applause (or they throw things) and I know how it went. But the solo is over. The notes are gone, evaporated, and will never be heard again. It’s nice to have the creative validation happen both ways.
Me: When you’re working on a novel or idea, do you have a ‘special place’ you work in; like a shed at the bottom of the garden, or a ‘den’ in the deepest cellar of your house? (Or caravan?!) And is it important to have such a place?
Mike: I have a room at home that is mine and I write there every day. There’s a desk, a wonderful office chair that I bought with my retirement whip-round, and I have a 24 inch screen that I use with my laptop, which is kinder to the eyes. It is a perfect work space and I love it.
But I also go away in a touring caravan. A lot! In the ‘van I’m working on my small laptop that’s balanced on a cushion while I perch on a bunk, with no flat surfaces to use a mouse, and I’m on a perpetual quest for electricity for recharging. And it’s funny, I write more and I write better when I’m away in the ‘van. I suppose The built-in thinking times help, such as those moments when the water runs out and I have to go out for more before I can put the kettle on, or the toilet needs emptying (and perhaps you don’t need to know the details of that one). It could be that when I want to gaze into the distance and ponder, there’s always something new to look at. I don’t know. It works for me, and that’s all I can say.
Me: You write sci-fi novels, but you also write travel books. These are two very different genres, do you see any disparity or correlation between these two?
Mike:That’s a really good question. Yes, there is massive disparity. In hindsight I have taken a road that only a lunatic would travel. I have separate author names: Mike Wood for Travel and Mjke Wood for Sci-fi. I maintain separate Twitter accounts and separate blogs. It is often said that you don’t make money in Indie publishing with a first book, and that you need patience to build a catalogue. Well I have two first books. Whatever possessed me? I suppose it is because I love to write Sci-fi and I love to write Travel (It’s not real travel – I don’t go very far, and my blog tag line describes me as ‘probably the world’s most un-travelled travel writer’.) What’s for sure is that the indie writing world lets me do this. A traditional publisher would forbid it and call me a *&%*# idiot. They’d be right.
But yes, there is occasional cross-over. The sci-fi book I’m working on now has a scene where the protagonist uses his camping skills with unfortunate consequences. There is misfortune and comedy. Sometimes you just have to shoehorn the ideas into place.
Me: In ‘Deep Space Accountant’, the hero is, well, an accountant! Is Elton based on anyone in particular? And do you see accountants as the secret heroes of the universe?!
Mike: You would think that my being an accountant in the old day-job would have provided at least some of the characters and story. But the truth is, I came up with the original idea for Deep Space Accountant long before I ever worked in finance, back when I was a bus scheduler. The inspiration actually came from a Gary Larson cartoon: Seymour Frishberg, Accountant of the Wild Frontier. Google it and you’ll see what I mean. It was an image of an accountant standing on a rocky promontory out in the old Wild West. I wanted to try it in a Sci-fi setting. I wrote the first draft. Then I became an accountant. Then I did the edit/rewrite. So maybe in the rewrite stage some of my colleagues might have made the odd cameo appearance. I’ll say no more.
And the second part of your question, about accountants being the secret heroes of the universe – well, that’s certainly my marketing pitch, so I’m sticking to it.
Me: Thinking about everything you have written so far – What was your hardest scene to write? And why?
Mike: I wrote a story a few years ago called “The Third Attractor”. I did it to push myself into new areas and put myself into the shoes of characters with whom I had little in common. The story was essentially a single scene, a conversation between a female mathematician and a priest. Well, I know nothing of maths, I’m male, and I’m an atheist, and in the story the female atheist mathematician proves the existence of God, to the priest, via mathematics. Yeah, I’d pretty much set myself up for a fall on that one. As it turned out it became one of my best short stories up to that time, and it was published in Abyss and Apex magazine. It was a tough story to write. I had to research theology, and I went to a lecture on Chaos theory at Liverpool university to try and get my head around all the maths problems. I loved writing it though, and I was chuffed with the result
Me: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Mike: Realising that what I see in my head cannot be seen by readers unless I go to the effort of describing them. This is a trap I fall into again and again. I can see the setting, and can feel the wind and smell the new-cut grass. I can see and hear the characters, know how they move, and recognise their accents. Then I make the assumption that my readers all have the same vision from some kind of telepathy. But they don’t. So I have to go back and fix it. And if I don’t, the story fails. It is a blind spot. One day I’ll learn to think about it before my editor points it out.
Mike: I’m going to give a second answer, because another thing that I find hard, very hard, is turning an idea into a story. I have lots of ideas, my notebooks are full of them, but they are not stories. Stories are characters overcoming problems. Okay, let me open an old notebook to any random page, now, and read… yes. ‘What if we could eliminate all risk?’ It is an idea, but it doesn’t say who the story is about. What is their problem? How do they resolve the problem, if at all? What pitfalls will they meet along the way and how will they overcome them? All these things combine to make a story. Getting from idea to story is hard, and always a challenge. That particular example became one of my longer short stories, “Risqueman”, and it won me a trip to Los Angeles. The journey from idea to story, though, was tortuous and I gave up and abandoned the idea many times before the outline of a story clicked, and even then I changed the Point of View character and the ending two or three times.
Me: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Mike: My best for a first draft novel is four weeks. But then I start to fiddle with it. I find this part the slowest. My personal record for the longest ‘fiddling about’ stage is for Deep Space Accountant, which evolved and changed over thirty years. I wrote other things in the meantime, but DSA was always there to draw me back in. Then I rewrote it, with different characters, different title, different plot and different settings. I did the rewrite, without looking at the original, in four months. So, ha! I can write fast, but I haven’t lost the ability to procrastinate at a world class level.
Me: How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Mike: I had to think about this, because really, not so many. Apart from the second travel book that is still a work in progress, I have just two novel-length books that didn’t go beyond first draft, and not because they couldn’t have worked with some further effort, but because they were projects with which I fell out of love. About half of my short stories haven’t made it into print and some are now trunked. Others are still in play, though. I tend to wrestle with projects until they work. Sometimes it takes a few years to find the right market, but I find it is worth persisting. Most projects will get there in the end. I’m a firm adherent to Heinlein’s rules, and rule 4 says: put your story on the market and keep it there until it sells.
Me: And finally, what is your favourite childhood book?
Mike: I make no apology, I loved “The Famous Five” and “The … of Adventure” books by Enid Blyton. No single book stands out above the others. I loved both series and read some of them in single all-night reading sessions. These were my gateway drug into reading, and probably contributed to wrecked eyes, too, because I read a lot of them under the covers with a torch until two in the morning. These books took me through to around age ten, until I discovered my Dad’s yellow-and-black-jacketed Analog Short Story anthologies that he used to borrow from the grown-up library and, well, that was that. Sci-fi hooked me from then on.
And that concludes today’s interview; I know, it is all over too soon isn’t it? Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed, Mike.
*At the time of interviewing, the anthology Tick Tock, was going to press, in which Mike was not only a contributing author, but the compiler.
Join me next time with Kit Cox – creator of Jack Union and the Union-verse books and short stories.
Until then, Ta Ta.