Monday, March 24, 2014

Interview with Michael Haley, author of Lost on the Edge of Forever

Hey! You! Person reading my blog! The book is coming along really well...I think so, at least. As of this morning, I'm at approximately 25,000 words,  93 pages, 18 chapters. One of my most recent dilemmas has been in managing the number of characters that I have living and breathing through these pages. I do feel that they're all necessary to tell the story, but am becoming increasingly aware that others may want me to cut 'em down. Another issue I've been playing with is that, while my protagonist most certainly is a YA, my secondary protagonist (if there really is such a thing) is an adult. (Ah ha! My first spoiler!) Will that come back to might me in the ass?  I hope not.

And, man.  These interviews have been coming in fast and hot. As always, if you know of an up-and-coming author who'd like to get the word out about their book(s) and would be willing to come on here and give us some tips, please send them my way. So far, it's been a lot of fun.

Today, we're speaking with Michael Haley, author of Lost on the Edge of Forever a "New Adult Spiritual Romance of the Fantastique", published by Curiosity Quills Press.
-Hi Michael! Lost on the Edge of Forever is your first novel. From where did the idea for this book first spring forth?
MICHAEL: The origins of the novel lie within Japanese ghost stories, specifically Ueda Akinari’s seventeenth century masterpiece Tales of Moonlight and Rain. I loved how the spirits of the book were not spectacles but creatures with objectives, feelings, and often opinions about their situations. I thought it’d be cool to do something like that within a contemporary American setting, featuring a ghost undergoing an existential crisis of faith upon finding herself left behind in a world that can’t see or hear her. The love story, featuring the one living boy who can see her for reasons unknown, arose around that idea.

-I'm currently writing a YA sci-fi, though I'm worried that my book bends the rules of the genre. You've referred to your novel as a "new adult spiritual romance of the fantastique". How difficult was it for you to label/define your book and how did this play into the querying of agents, publishers, etc.?
MICHAEL: Who cares if your sci-fi bends the rules of the genre? Genre rules are made to be bent, beaten and broken! The most ambitious fiction freely picks what it needs from whatever genre is appropriate for the scene, then disregards everything else. A pure genre work has to be PERFECT for me to look past genre tropes to see the original story beneath the formula, which for sci-fi, would be 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film (and I guess the book too) set the bar punishingly high for all else that has and will follow. Good luck with that!

My book was, and still is, incredibly hard to label in terms of genre, as it is most accurately a New Adult/Contemporary/Paranormal/Spiritual/Coming of Age/Existential/Quasi-Erotic/Romance of the Fantastique. That’s a mouthful, yet shortening it to just “Paranormal” or even “Romance” doesn’t give the best indicator as to what the book actually is – a hybrid of several genres that is a work of the Fantastique, a French genre that only devoted readers will recognize by name. When querying, I tried numerous combinations and descriptions that all sounded terrible, and probably were. The winning description was:
“…is paranormal new adult, narrated by the energetic voices of its titular characters aged 18 and forever 21, and contains language, sexuality, and deeper thematic elements appropriately but intensely frank in the manner of Judy Bloom’s Forever.  It is intended primarily for upper young adult/new adult audiences who identify with the desire to connect with one another during the scariest and most exhilarating time of their lives.”

-You found a home with Curiosity Quills Press. Can you describe the events leading up to deciding to publish with them and explain why they were such a good fit?
MICHAEL: Like every other writer, I began querying lots of agents. One nibble, followed by several rejections. More queries, no nibbles, and more rejections. On my third go around, I chanced across CQ on a webpage listing up-and-coming publishing houses accepting un-agented work, and on a whim, I queried them along with the final batch of agents. Every single agent either rejected or didn’t reply, whereas Ellie Heller from CQ believed in the work and agreed to publish it. I was ecstatic.

Curiosity Quills is a good fit, not just because they publish New Adult Paranormal but also for their naked transparency of best business practices. There are a lot of shady agents/publishers looking to make quick money with questionable business tactics, yet CQ has always been straight forward and honest about everything they do. On an artistic level, they’re also a fantastic fit because even though the story has evolved throughout the publication process, they have always allowed me full artistic control of the text. The editorial process didn’t consist of, “We’d like this ending better, so write what we want,” but rather, “This element doesn’t work; x suggestion might fix it, or something else you think of.” This allowed me to come up with alternatives to the editorial issues I could stand by, so when all was said and done, the book’s text remains completely my vision. Yet thanks to two fantastic editors – T.J. Loveless and Chrystal Schleyer – the book is a vision I never would’ve been able to fully realize on my own.

-I'm currently in the "first draft" phase of my book. I've often been told to just "get everything out there" and not to worry so much about the details and editing at this point. Just get the story down. Would you agree with that process or were you "rinsing and repeating" as you went along?
MICHAEL: The “just get the story down” is a fantastic method and the way first drafts SHOULD work. Yet it’s also not realistic, and I rinsed and repeated relentlessly until I finally had a draft that I was happy with (of which only a handful of scenes are extant in the final work.) Having something on paper is essential because then you’ll actually have something tangible to work with, but having everything on paper before tinkering is like dropping triple-chocolate chip cookie dough on the dinner plate when there’s still asparagus left to suffer through. So I’ll typically do a light once-over of the previous day’s work before moving on the next day’s writing, and then only return to earlier material if a new idea creates a plot/character incongruity.  As it is, new ideas sprout all the time that create incongruities, which gives rise to incessant rinsing and repeating. As Vonnegut would say, So it goes.

-When do you find time to write? What is your process like? I am a teacher with a young daughter at home and time is not plentiful. How did you do it?
MICHAEL: I wrote the novel little by painstaking little, literally. Some nights were blessed with plentiful writing spurts, but most weren't. This problem was exacerbated by a morning/afternoon full time job that left me feeling fatigued to the point of incapacity during prime writing hours. Coffee usually did the trick, or at least got me awake and focused enough to get something down for the day. And something is always better than nothing, well, that is until you go to edit. Then, the general rule is that nothing is probably better than something, so make the something that remains matter!

The only trick to finishing anything is to have stubborn patience and persistence, even if only means days of writing a few sentences or less. By chance, the eventual long writing day will come, and then the trick is not squander the opportunity by doing less productive things (something I still haven’t mastered.)

-Ok. Time for a reality check. Slap me around. What do I really need to know, before I bring this thing to agents, publishers, etc. and was there anything that you wished you'd known ahead of time?
MICHAEL: Make the first chapter the best damned piece of writing you can! My opening chapter has sharpened exponentially since signing with CQ, and it went from something even friends had a hard time reading to something people who hate reading wanted to read the rest of. If there is anything, and I mean anything, in the first chapter that keeps the reader’s eyes from moving forward: cut it. Have an Ace in your hand? Play it! The momentum of the opening chapter is what will carry readers throughout the whole book. If it’s not there, the reader/agent/publisher will move on to something else. Getting the query letter right is important too, but some query mistakes can be forgiven with great writing. A great query letter will never be forgiven with awful writing.

-I feel that my writing is heavily influenced by what I read and watched growing up. Are there any books, movies, or tv shows that have influenced how you write, whether it be in creating characters, worlds, dialogue, etc.?
MICHAEL: This answer could easily be a whole book in itself, so I’ll just hit the salient influences. Haruki Murakami and Clive Barker (specifically Norwegian Wood, 1Q84, Hellbound Heart & Galilee) remain my biggest influences for overall subject matter; Stephen King (Christine and On Writing) for line-editing; Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy) for dialogue and character plotting (including the F-bombs,) Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy 1-10) for exploring emotion & feeling within narrative; Jean-Luc Godard & Spike Lee (Breathless, nearly all of Spike’s joints) for overall style; and the entire catalogues of R.E.M. & Ke$ha for energy. For editing, watching Project Runway and hearing Tim Gunn and Michael Kors critique elements of form & fashion was oddly and wonderfully instructive for helping see the work with an editorial eye as opposed to a doe-eyed “I wrote that, so it’s perfect!” vision that can and will destroy your work if not tempered.

-Today's world is all about the reboot. Even though I'm not a super fan of this new trend, what franchise, television show, or movie from the 80's would you like to see return to the big screen?
MICHAEL: It’s not a new trend. Hollywood has had very few original ideas since its inception, and most movies, if not explicitly reboots, are adaptations of literary or dramatic work. Some, like Kurosawa’s Shakespeare-flavored films Throne of Blood, The Bad Sleep Well and Ran, are masterpieces. Even Hitchcock rebooted his own movie with The Man Who Knew Too Much. So if I’m to trash this new trend, then I have to trash the entire history of Hollywood, and I’m not willing to do that.

So for my 80’s reboot, I pick Poltergeist – on the condition that Michael Bay directs it.  He often he puts his name as a producer on crappy 80’s horror movie reboots, yet never directs them. Seeing his bombastic vision behind the camera of a horror movie could be nothing short of incredible, and Poltergeist is just the right too-good-to-be-campy but not-good-enough-to-be-a-classic movie that might benefit from his touch (or just have Steven Spielberg erase Tobe Hooper’s name from the credits and put his own name rightfully on. Either/or.)

-Can you believe that Chuck Norris just turned 74?

-Speaking of guys who could kick my ass, who would win in a fight: Geoffrey Chaucer or John Milton?
MICHAEL: Chaucer. Although I can’t explain why – call it a feeling.

-If your life had a soundtrack, what would it be?
MICHAEL: It would feature a lot of R.E.M, along with Ke$ha, Avril Lavigne, Rihanna, Bob Dylan, and The Raveonettes – I’m not of the “today’s music is destroying modern society” persuasion. Pop music is like aural candy to me, and is often both lyrically abstract and incessantly energetic enough to fit my personality.

Lost on the Edge of Forever does have a Pinterest soundtrack collection, as the entire thing was written to music. Check out for a visual playlist of the music I listened to when writing the book, along with the corresponding song for any given scene.

-In your opinion, what makes a good villain? Who's your favorite and why?
MICHAEL: A good villain is someone who’s just as fleshed out as the hero, perhaps even more so – except for whatever reason the narrative dictates, has become a monster.

The Mayor on Walking Dead is one of my favorites, because so much of what makes him evil has its roots in qualities normally given to heroes – conviction, dedication, compassion, justice – so that his acts of honor and mercy are often incredibly heinous. This is especially true when the character is allowed to grow in Season Four, which results in an intense depiction of evil arising from hard-won, noble qualities that made for a few really great television episodes.

-Ok. Here's your chance to pitch your book. Why should I (or anyone else for that matter) go out and buy it? Make me want it, man.
MICHAEL: This book is not a romance meant for girls. Or for boys. Nor for women or men. It’s a romance meant for everyone. That’s not saying it’s a saccharine product designed to appeal to every taste, but rather that anyone who’s either been in love or anguished over finding their place in the world will find something within its pages to relate to. The story doesn't feature alpha males, photo-shopped knock-outs, or even super-supportive friends, and opens with the female getting her head blown off (and that’s not even a spoiler!) Yet her desire to make sense of her afterlife is not unlike our own, and their romantic adventure into the unknown is not unlike what we wish our own will become. It’s a ghost tale, a coming of age journey, a sexual & religious odyssey, and ultimately a transcendent romance born from the ashes of despair. I’ll never do something silly like promise that you’ll love the book, as no book in history has been unanimously loved or loathed. Yet love this book or hate it, it will not leave you unaffected. So, if you please, I invite you to join their journey, which just might resemble your own.

-Teaser - Lost on the Edge of Forever:
MICHAEL: Leila, an ambitious and brilliant student, is murdered during her final semester at college, yet discovers she’s been reborn as a spirit resigned to haunt the school of her death. Alejandro, a listless and depressed freshman, arrives on campus eager to reinvent himself after eighteen years of awkwardness, as well as a devastating family tragedy, shake his sense of worth and faith to their cores.

The two lonely souls meet under the auspice of moonlit rain, and soon find themselves irrevocably, passionately attracted to each other. Leila discovers her spiritual body reawakening with sensations that make her feel alive again, and Alejandro discovers a kindred spirit who understands him like no one else. Intoxicated with each other, the impossible lovers begin to dream of finding a way to hold onto their own private miracle. Forever.

Yet how can Alejandro explain to skeptical friends and family that his soul-mate is dead? Why does Leila get the nagging suspicion that within their relationship lies the secret of her continued existence? An unexpected act of evil ignites these unavoidable questions, only to reveal in its aftermath the true purpose of Leila and Alejandro’s star-crossed romance. Will their love allow them to accept a profound destiny that surpasses time and perhaps even God, or is their love destined to die loud and young?

-Where can I purchase it?
E-book: Barnes and
Paperback and e-book:
As well as any brick and mortar retailer nice people such as yourself can convince to carry this book!

Awesome interview, Michael! Thanks for taking so much time with these questions.

Find me (TOM) on Twitter @RimerTom as I continue to blog about my first attempt at writing a book and getting published. Expect tears.

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