Meet author & Book Country member Michael R. Underwood
“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.
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?
Mike: Geekomancy 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