Interview: Michael Dempsey, author of Necropolis

Please welcome Michael Dempsey to the blog! Michael is the author of the brand new sci-fi noir, Necropolis (it’s the awesome, review to come) and is also a screenwriter and a playwright! Luckily, I managed to convince him to answer a few of my questions, and he graciously obliged. Also, be sure to check out the awesome Necropolis trailer at the end of the post!

Michael, you’re an old hand at writing, having penned screenplays for network television, most notably Cybill, and you’re an accomplished stage actor and director. What made you decide to take the plunge into writing a novel?
I moved back home to Ohio a few years ago to be closer to my parents, who were experiencing some health issues at the time. You really need to be in New York or Los Angeles, if you’re seriously about a television or film writing career. But it’s possible to be a novelist anywhere. So that was one reason to write a novel. The other reason was simply that I wanted to tackle the challenges of the form. I got involved in theatre in college, first in acting and directing and then writing plays. Which led me eventually to film and television writing. But my first stabs at writing when I was kid were short stories, so it was a bit like coming full circle. You could say I came home in several ways…

Can you tell us about your brand new novel, Necropolis?
NECROPOLIS is a sci fi noir crime novel set in a dystopian future. Our protagonist, Paul Donner, is a Brooklyn police detective with a drinking problem and a marriage on the rocks. In the opening pages, he and his wife are shot to death in a “random” hold-up. Fifty years later, Donner is back—revived courtesy of the Shift, a process whereby inanimate DNA is re-activated. This new “reborn” underclass is not only alive again, they’re growing younger, destined for a second childhood. The freakish side-effect of a retroviral attack on New York, The Shift has turned the world upside down. Beneath the protective geodesic Blister, clocks run backwards, technology is hidden behind a noir façade, and you can see Elvis at Radio City Music Hall every night. In this unfamiliar retro-futuristic world of maglev Studebakers and plasma Tommy guns, Donner must search for those responsible for the destruction of his life. His quest for retribution, aided by Maggie, his holographic Girl Friday, leads him to the heart of the mystery surrounding the Shift’s origins up against those who would use it to control a terrified nation

What made you decide on speculative fiction/tech noir as your genre for your first book?
As a child, I idolized Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and the other sci fi gods of that generation. And I was a big fan of “pulp fiction,” like the Doc Savage and Tarzan novels. Finally, I was a huge lover of crime fiction—the grittier and nastier, the better. The noir films of the 1940s and 1950s had a kind of loneliness, darkness and desperation that was really evocative. It was a look at the underbelly of society—while these perfect happy smiling families were filling up at Sunoco and getting their daily milk deliveries and going to good jobs in brand-new skyscrapers, there were also con men and grifters and people on the fringes fighting for every table scrap. So I guess I just decided to see how I could blend all these elements together in an exciting and believable way.

If someone were just starting to read in the genre, what books would you recommend (in addition to yours, of course)?
Don’t laugh, but I really don’t know! I’m only half-serious. Although I’d seen and loved movies like Blade Runner and Dark City and Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow, I didn’t fully comprehend that there already was an evolved and well-explored subgenre that integrated both the noir and retro sensibility with science fiction—alternately called dieselpunk, tech noir, or sci fi noir. So when artist Erik Gist, who did the fabulous cover for my book, said he dug my novel and dieselpunk in general, I was like, “Dieselpunk? Huh?” And I blush in shame to admit that I promptly Googled it.

I guess I’d say read Gibson, read Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan, read Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. Read the cyberpunk masters like Gibson, Rudy Rucker and John Shirley. As far as cinema, there are a lot of explicit homages to noir in films like The Thirteenth Floor and Godard’s Alphaville.

While it’s modus operandi is scientific and not supernatural, Necropolis has many similarities to the urban fantasy genre, so if you like Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series or Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, you’ll probably like Necropolis.

What’s one of your most unusual writing quirks?
My process is pretty standard and boring, I’m afraid. I write first thing in the morning almost every day, before life can intrude. I used to never be able to work on more than one project at a time, but in the past few years I’ve developed a cycle where I work on one piece, then put it in a drawer and work on another in an entirely different genre or form (play, screenplay, etc.) and cycle back to the previous one. It helps get my brain away from “inside” the story so I can come back to it fresher and with more perspective. It’s so easy to get lost inside, to get swept away by your own storytelling. Then in three months, you come back to it and say, “Holy god, that’s truly terrible!” Or sometimes, “Wow, that’s better than I thought!”

What are you reading right now?
I just finished True Detective by Max Collins, which was an awesome noir crime novel set among real events and people. I’m also re-reading Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man for the first time in twenty years. These short stories are astonishing—written in 1949 and 1950 for the most part, they prophesize “holodeck” type rooms and other technology, but also dig really deep into the philosophical, spiritual and ethical issues that may arise with future technology as we go to the stars. I’m also reading Connie Willis’s recent Hugo winner, Blackout.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?
Besides the ones previously mentioned: I was reading Philip K. Dick way before Hollywood got turned on to him (yes, I’m THAT old!)…I particularly love stories in which the rules of reality are suspect. Then writers like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson came along and showed us a whole new way science fiction could be. I still remember not being able to close my mouth through half of Snow Crash.

In terms of crime, I love the super hardcore crime novels of Richard Stark and Andrew Vachss. Raymond Chandler doesn’t get enough credit for his beautiful prose…if he hadn’t been writing mysteries he would’ve been hailed as one of the great writers of the 20th century, in my opinion. I’m also a big Don DeLillo, Tom Wolfe, Gabriel García Márquez, Michael Connolly and Stephen King fan. But I’d have to say Shakespeare is my primary influence…he did it all: tragedy, comedy, supernatural, romance…and better than anyone. And (despite the literary accolades we heap on him now) he did as a commercially successful writer who kept his audiences happy with plenty of sex and violence!

If someone were to write a book about your life, what would it be titled?
Second Chances.

When you’re not busy writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I’m still involved heavily in theatre, so I’m usually directing or acting in a play or musical in Northeast Ohio. Right now I’m performing in one and rehearsing another. As might be guessed, I also do a ton of reading and I play the violin.

Is there any advice your would give to struggling writers?
The most critical trait of a successful writer is perseverance. Many talented people fall by the wayside and give up. Also: writing is rewriting. Don’t be satisfied with your first draft. Get input. Never fall in love with your own writing to the extent that you can’t “kill your babies” when they don’t work. It can be painful but necessary. Stay open to constructive criticism. No one is so good that they can’t grow.

Write what you love, not what you think will sell. Writing is a long process, so you better be incredibly turned on by the tale if you’re gonna make it through. Write what you yourself would love to read.

Finally: get out there and LIVE! There is no replacement for life experience. If all you do is sit in a room and write, your writing will be two-dimensional and derivative.

Do you have any news of upcoming projects or events that you’d like to share with us?
As far as novels, I’m in the middle of a supernatural story about the end of the world and also outlining a techno-thriller. Finally, I’m doing a lot of daydreaming about what would happen next in the world of Necropolis, should this book provide popular enough to engender a sequel…
Keep up with Michael: Website | Blog | Twitter
Read my review of Necropolis!
Purchase Necropolis: Amazon | Barnes and Noble