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One Year Since Michael R. Underwood’s GEEKOMANCY, Pt. 2

Posted by April 9th, 2013

Mike Underwood on the sequel, using Book Country & growing as a writer

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“Write a lot, read a lot, and give yourself every opportunity you can.” 

This is Part Two of our interview with Book Country member and speculative fiction author Michael R. Underwood. In Part One, we chatted about his debut novel Geekomancy and his path to publication—the book was discovered on Book Country by Pocket/Gallery editor Adam Wilson. 

Here we’re digging deeper into how Mike workshopped his novel on Book Country as well as talking about his second book, 
Celebromancy

Nevena: We’re excited that Celebromancy comes out this summer. How was writing the sequel different?

Mike: I wrote Celebromancy in less than half the time it took to writeGeekomancy. I’d been trying for years to break in as a novelist, and now that I’m here, that success has helped me develop my discipline. Now I work harder, longer, and more efficiently.

There were several factors helping that along. I had a deadline to meet. I had already done the heavy setting and character lifting. When I startedGeekomancy, Ree Reyes was mostly just a snarky geeky voice in my head. When I moved onto Celebromancy, she was a fully-realized character who had already survived a trial by fire.

Nevena: Did your writing process change from book to book?

Mike: My process definitely changed, and continues to change. I used to be more of a pantser/gardener, taking a basic idea and then launching into a first draft to figure things out and then clean it up later. With Geekomancy andCelebromancy, I had the main plot figured out by the time I got 20,000 words into each book, which gave me some guideposts. But since writing the second book, I’ve changed my process once again. I’ve been plotting more out ahead of time, filling out more beats along the way and seeing how that affects my process. I just wrote a 26,000 word first draft of a novella in about twenty days that way!

Nevena: That’s awesome! So what’s next?

Mike: In addition to the novella I’m working on, I’m in the pre-writing for a new novel, unconnected to the Geekomancy universe. I’ve got several pitches out in the world, and if/when one of them catches, I’ll dive into that. AndCelebromancy comes out on July 15th!

Nevena: I’ll mark my calendar! Your first book was found on Book Country. How did you get started on the site?

Mike: I first learned about Book Country through Colleen Lindsay (who was a former co-worker of my dad’s—I met Colleen when I was a bright-eyed teen volunteering at the Del Rey booth at Star Wars Celebration II). I saw her tweeting about a Sekrit Project, and I was intrigued. I begged my way into the beta, and was elated to find a critique group, a discussion board, and a new way of connecting with fellow writers. The Genre Map was a fantastic idea, and I was very excited to have the chance to get my work critiqued by writers with a wide range of perspectives and to give back in areas where I had some experience (since I’d been working in publishing already at that point).

Nevena: How has the site helped your growth as a writer?

Mike: The biggest thing I learned from Book Country was how to sort through critiques and figure out how to incorporate the feedback. With an in-person critique group, you get more feedback, faster, and can use non-verbal cues to sort out comments. Critiques on Book Country are more like reviews in the marketplace—they’re just text, and are based on the reader’s relationship to this one text, not with the reader in general. I found that in total, the reviews I got were totally contradictory—so I had to really dig into them and figure out how to reconcile the contradictory parts. That has changed the way I read reviews of Geekomancy: I acknowledge the criticism and try to figure out which bits of feedback to take to heart.

I don’t get to spend as much time on Book Country anymore, since there are many more demands on my time, but I love popping on now and again to see what other writers are doing and adding to the discussion. I’ve sent many fellow writers to Book Country to post their manuscripts and get feedback, because hey, it worked for me, it could work for them, too.

Nevena: Thanks, Mike! Could you elaborate about the process of getting critiques and making decisions from them?

Mike: First, I try to focus the attention of my reviewers by telling them what type of feedback I’d like. Early in revisions, getting line edits isn’t really useful. The earlier in process a work is, the more broad I ask for the feedback to be. Were you entertained? What parts confused you? Bored you? Thrilled you?

Later in the process, I zoom in on specific questions, about a plot-line, a character,  or another concrete issue. And right before a work is ready to go out, I’ll ask specifically for the grammar-checking, typo-hunting line edits.

Once I have that feedback, I try to honestly engage with the responses and decide whether they will help me make the story a better version of the story I want to tell, or will make it a different story—one I don’t want to tell. Most stories can be told in many different ways. And most stories I tell I could probably tell in a few ways. But most of the time, there’s one way of telling the story that best reflects who I am as a storyteller, and I try to dig out the feedback that will help me tell the story *that* way better.

Nevena: That’s really helpful. Any parting words of advice for other writers who are trying to get to where you are now?

Mike: Write a lot, read a lot, and give yourself every opportunity you can. It took maybe half an hour of my time to format a few chapters of Geekomancy for Book Country, and it ended up getting me a book deal. You never know what opportunity will be the one that connects. You can drive yourself crazy trying to find the magic formula or path to success, but if something comes up, I think it’s always worth asking, “What do I have to lose?” Sometimes the answer to that question will end up being too much time, more money than you want to spend, or something else that counts as “too much.” But other times, it might just be a bit of your time, and you never know where it might lead.

Nevena: It was really great catching up with you! Good luck with all of your projects.

Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeRUnderwood and visit his blog, Geek TheoryGeekomancy is now an audio book.

Micheal R. Underwood is represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency.

 

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One Year Since Michael R. Underwood’s GEEKOMANCY

Posted by April 8th, 2013

Meet author & Book Country member Michael R. Underwood

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“Don’t always settle for the established trope.” –Mike Underwood

Michael R. Underwood is the author of Geekomancy, an urban fantasy novel in which geek knowledge is a superpower. A year ago Pocket/Gallery editor Adam Wilson came across a sample of the manuscript on Book Country, loved it, and offered Mike a book deal.

We got in touch with Mike to commemorate the acquisition, talk about his writing, and find out how becoming a published author changed his life.

Nevena: Thank you for joining us, Mike. Let’s start with Geekomancy. When did you start writing it? And how did you come up with the idea of Geekomancers, or “humans that derive their supernatural powers from pop culture”?

Mike
Geekomancy started as a distraction. I gave myself a break from writing another novel so I could noodle with this idea I had about geek magic. I set aside the novel I’d been working on and let myself explore this new idea over Thanksgiving weekend. The genesis of the magic of Geekomancycame from a confluence of many influences and inspirations, but largely from asking myself the question, “What would geek magic be?”—and then trying to figure out the answer.

Nevena: Geek magic is a unique concept. Do you see yourself reinventing genre conventions?

Mike: When I started Geekomancy, I set out to write the kind of urban fantasy that I’d want to read. I feel like there is a thread in urban fantasy that takes the same creature types (e.g., Vampires, Wereshifters, Demons, Witches, Fae, etc.) and just re-cycles them with minimal changes. I wanted to do something different. The world of Geekomancy has vampires, werewolves and demons, but I filtered each creature type through the whacky lens of the world. So I ended up with vampires nearly extinct because they’d been lashed to the popular consciousness dominated by Twilight, werewolves that are actually humans in rubber werewolf suits, and a demon called the Thrice-Retconned Duke of Pwn.

It may not count as breaking a convention, but Geekomancy was always intended to be a comedy as much as an urban fantasy. There are other great comedic urban fantasy series (e.g.,The Dresden Files, InCryptid, The Iron Druid Chronicles), but I don’t see it as the dominant thread in urban fantasy. Many have comedy in them, but far fewer are as much comedy as they are urban fantasy.

Nevena: Are there any clichés or genre conventions in fantasy you’d like to see disappear?

Mike: No, because I keep seeing writers take something familiar and make it fresh again. I would like to challenge fantasy writers (myself included!): don’t always settle for the established trope as is. It can be tricky to find that balance—in drawing enough on what’s come before to invite audiences in through the familiar, but then delivering something that’s distinct and new enough to be worth the reader’s time. I used familiar cultural properties inGeekomancy, but I tried to put them together in a different way.

Nevena: I can see that, especially with how you’ve woven your unique sense of humor throughout the book. What’s your secret to crafting a great voice?

Mike: Thanks! I access voice through the same way I step into a character when I’m playing RPGs or acting. I learn enough about the character that I can build a worldview filter that lets me see and analyze the world through that character’s perspective. When I’ve got a clear sense of a character’s voice, it’s much easier for me to tear through the word count. For me, a well-realized voice makes for a well-realized character, and then the character can drive the story.

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Nevena: Now walk us through the book’s path to publication. What was the most challenging part about writing and publishing it?

Mike: I started writing Geekomancy in November 2010, and continued through the summer of 2011. I took a break in the summer to do a revise-and-resubmit for an agent on a previous project, then went back toGeekomancy and wrote until I finished the rough draft in late 2011. I submitted the barely-revised rough draft to a novel contest in an online writers’ group I’m in (Codex Writers), and decided to throw a sample up on Book Country as well, as a way to share my revision process online and get some extra feedback.

In January 2012, I got an email from Adam Wilson at Pocket/Gallery, who had read the partial on Book Country and asked for the full manuscript. After a good bout of Kermit flailing, I wrote back and sent the manuscript, and about a week later, I had an offer.

The most challenging part was the first draft itself. I was having a huge amount of fun writing the novel, but along the way, I had doubts—what if I was writing too obscure, too insular? Was I writing a novel only I and fifty of my friends would enjoy? I made some edits to make the book more accessible, but I think it remains a book that will best connect with particular types of readers.

I think all books have “ideal readers” who are positioned to best connect with a work. Books can connect with many other people, but the ideal readers are probably the people who will most love the work. I inadvertently gave myself the advantage of knowing quite specifically who the ideal readers for Geekomancy were—they were the people who had grown up loving many of the same things I did, who could see themselves in Ree Reyes and her friends. What started as a fear has turned out to be the work’s great strength for the ideal readers.

Nevena: I bet the concept of an ideal reader helps a lot during the writing process. What was the process of working with your editor?

MikeGeekomancy is largely the same novel it was as of the first draft. Adam helped me take the things I was trying to do and do them better, more evocatively. He also helped me foreground the magic so that it could connect with readers better and invoke the fannish joy that is intrinsic (for me) to geekdom.

I love having an editor. I’ve been a collaborative storyteller for most of my life, playing tabletop and live-action role-playing games. It’s great to have a partner who is both a skilled reader who helps me focus and clarify my work as well as a champion for the book in the industry. Adam coordinated the publishing machine that took Geekomancy from a word document on my hard drive to a completed commercial novel ready to connect with readers.

Nevena: Sounds like Adam is awesome! 🙂 How has your life changed since Geekomancy?

Mike: Life since selling the novel has been a whirlwind. Mostly, the difference has been one of intensity. Before, I was working hard on writing, but knowing that there are readers waiting for more did a great job of helping me put that extra bit of effort in every day.

Another huge change is that I now have novels out in the world, and with that come readers, reviews, and life in the public eye. Every time I see a tweet or a review, it reminds me that the writing career that I’ve wanted for so long is happening, right now. The dream has come true, but it’s a work in progress. The first deal isn’t happily ever after, not by a long shot. But I’m in the game.

Nevena: I’m really happy for you, Mike.

Geekomancy is now an audio book. Listen to a sample here. Follow Michael R. Underwood on Twitter at @MikeRUnderwood and visit his blog. He’s represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency.

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two of our interview with Mike, in which he talks about his new book, Celebromancy, coming out on July 15th, and being part of Book Country.

* Cover art by Trish Cramblet, Design by Min Choi

 

 

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