I’m so happy to have Mike Underwood on the blog today! Mike is the author of Geekomancy, the brand new urban fantasy out on July 10th, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Please welcome Mike to the blog!
Mike, you hold a BA in Creative Mythology and East Asian Studies and an MA in Folklore Studies (whew!). Have you always wanted to be a writer? Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to tell stories. I spent many hours as a kid and teen playing tabletop role-playing games and learning the nuts and bolts of stories. In undergrad, I designed my individualized major of Creative Mythology, which let me dive into the craft of writing as well as learning about world cultures so I could create imagined worlds that feel real and lived-in.
Also in undergrad, I was adopted by a critique group of writers who were also members of my live action drama troupe, and they helped me learn the ropes.I leveled up again at the Clarion West workshop in 2007, and after a couple of years of writing and re-writing a New Weird Superhero novel, I started on Geekomancy (as a break from a YA epic fantasy), and had so much fun that I couldn’t stop.
When the first draft was done, I put an excerpt up on Book Country (www.BookCountry.com) as I started revisions. In late January of 2012, Adam Wilson solicited the manuscript after reading it on Book Country…and the rest was history.
Your first novel, Geekomancy, comes out next week! Marie Lu said “If Buffy hooked up with Doctor Who while on board the Serenity, this book would be their lovechild. In other words, GEEKOMANCY is full of epic win.” Is that a pretty accurate description in your opinion?
I think Marie did a great job of capturing the feel of the book – Geekomancy, among other things, is a love letter to the geek culture I grew up with, and takes joy in juxtaposing elements from those properties to create a coherent world. The major influences I’d identify for Geekomancy are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Clerks, The Dresden Files, and The Middleman, but I am also a Browncoat and love the Doctor Who that I’ve seen (not nearly enough).
Geekomancy is very much a product of combining elements of geekdom and re-considering the texts that bring so many of us together in shared passion. I wanted to create an urban fantasy that was about geeks, about fandom, more than being the kind of urban fantasy I was seeing on the shelves (much of which I love!). I wanted to do something different while also being very personal. In that, I think I’ve succeeded.
What was your favorite part of writing Geekomancy?
Creating and refining Geekomancy itself, a magic system powered by fandom. When I started, I just had the ideas of using props to do what they were supposed to do in their films/TV shows, and the idea of genre emulation. As I wrote, I got to build a whole magical community around those styles and dig into the way that emotional investment in pop culture could be the fuel that powered a magical style.
Who did you enjoy writing more: Ree or Eastwood, and why?
Eastwood is fun because his motivation is very complicated and he’s got a lot of demons in his past that I get to show in various degrees. But Ree is more fun for me, since I get to spend time in her mind and get her reactions to things. She’s a very genre-aware character, which means I get to create a heroine who intimately knows the tropes of fantasy and science fiction.
And then I get to confound her by presenting a world that hits her genre knowledge at a crooked angle. So instead of werewolves, she gets people in rubber wolfman suits that channel the archetype of the Werewolf. Instead of a hierarchical secret order of magicians, she finds a loose assortment of mages in affinity groups and a secret society that’s more like the Browncoats than the Masons.
What do you love most about fantasy?
I love the chance to create new worlds – either entirely new ones in secondary fantasy, or worlds within worlds in urban fantasy. With my folklore & mythology background, I’ve grown very fond of the method of taking ideas or elements of culture and history from our own world, tweaking them and mixing them around, then putting them in a new context somewhere very very different.
In fantasy I get to do things like ask: What happens if you take a group very much like Tokugawa era samurai nobility with clan pride and martial infighting and then put them into a setting where there are many other cultures and civilizations to fight with nearby instead of just spending centuries in-fighting on the islands of Japan? Also, how about some magic in the setting while we’re at it?
What are some of your favorite writers?
My favorites would include China Mieville (especially the Bas-Lag books), Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler (I loved her story “Speech Sounds” so much that I taught it at a writing workshop), George R.R. Martin, and Neil Gaiman. As for writers who have hit the scene more recently, I’m loving the work of N.K. Jemisin (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Killing Moon, specifically), Bradley P. Beaulieu (The Winds of Khalakovo and The Straits of Galahesh) and Marie Lu (Legend).
What is one of your favorite lines from a book?
I have a deep, hearty heart for “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” from William Gibson’s Neuromancer. It’s efficient, evocative, and very specifically placed in time. The book was very predictive in some areas (it presages most of the Cyberpunk genre and a fair bit of how the Internet panned out) but very much placed in its own time. These days, most TVs in the U.S.A. are electric blue or just black when tuned to a dead channel – you have to know that at the time, TV tuned to a dead channel looked like visual static, mixtures of flowing greys.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
In my rapidly-vanishing free time, I study renaissance martial arts, specifically La Verdadera Destreza, an Iberian martial science. I love how much Destreza flows in with my knowledge of Argentine Tango, and the way that the science is useable with a variety of weapons (rapier, longsword, greatsword, etc.) I do most of my study through the Society for Creative Anachronism, which means not only do I get to study swordplay, I do it while wearing cool clothes.
Is there any advice that you can offer struggling writers?
I had a lot of trouble with revision for several years. What started really making a difference for me (on top of practice) was learning to prioritize and focus. Instead of just re-reading the manuscript for the fifteenth time trying to “make it better,” I identified specific weaknesses and areas to change, with the assistance of critique partners, and worked on one thing at a time, just trying to fix the big problems first, then working my way down to the little issues. Once I’ve made my way through the list, I read through again and see what I’ve broken by fixing something else. And eventually, all that’s left are little issues to fix with a line edit.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!!)?
I’m doing a small book tour this summer, coinciding with my day-job travels. Readers in the Midwest can check out my website for details. I have events scheduled in Petoskey, MI, Morehead, KY, and Bloomington, IN.
Currently, I’m working on the sequel to Geekomancy, which will be coming out in 2013. I’ll also be attending WorldCon and World Fantasy this fall.
You can find me at my website and on Twitter.
Snag Geekomancy: Kindle | Nook
About the author:
Michael R. Underwood grew up devouring stories in all forms: movies, comics, TV, video games, and novels. He holds a B.A. in Creative Mythology and East Asian Studies from Indiana University and an M.A. in Folklore Studies from the University of Oregon, which have been great preparation for writing speculative fiction. Michael went straight from his M.A. to the Clarion West Writers Workshop and then landed in Bloomington, Indiana, where he remains. When not writing or selling books across the Midwest as an independent book representative, Michael dances Argentine Tango and studies renaissance martial arts.
Ree Reyes’s life was easier when all she had to worry about was scraping together tips from her gig as a barista and comicshop slave to pursue her ambitions as a screenwriter.
When a scruffy-looking guy storms into the shop looking for a comic like his life depends on it, Ree writes it off as just another day in the land of the geeks. Until a gigantic “BOOM!” echoes from the alley a minute later, and Ree follows the rabbit hole down into her town’s magical flip-side. Here, astral cowboy hackers fight trolls, rubber-suited werewolves, and elegant Gothic Lolita witches while wielding nostalgia-powered props.
Ree joins Eastwood (aka Scruffy Guy), investigating a mysterious string of teen suicides as she tries to recover from her own drag-your-heart-through-jagged-glass breakup. But as she digs deeper, Ree discovers Eastwood may not be the knight-in-cardboard armor she thought. Will Ree be able to stop the suicides, save Eastwood from himself, and somehow keep her job?