By Maggie James
Today I'm delighted to welcome to my blog novelist Michael Allen Willamson. Michael is the author of the highly original science fiction novel The Immense Center. Let's get the party started!
On your website, you describe yourself as being 5% troublemaker. Tell us about your wicked side.
I hate following the rules or doing things the way they've always been done. I have no patience for authority derived from position or status. I'm far more interested in progress and new ideas. I'm more interested in thinking about what is to be done from the position of good ideas based on the merit of the idea, not the authority of the person giving the idea. So, I'm often the one rocking the boat. I'm a troublemaker only to the extent that I won't blindly follow somebody else's rules just because they say so. If I understand and agree with the rules, then it makes sense to follow them.
For example, when it comes to writing, the internet is full of "10 Rules for Good Writing" and "The One Writing Rule You Should Know." Link-bait titles, for sure, but the very notion that there are rules to writing, grammar, and language rubs my very soul sore. You can't create anything original or new by following the rules. Of course, knowing the rules can help know how to break them, but most of the time, rules are just somebody else telling me how to do my thing.
I generally draw the line at breaking the law, though. For a variety of reasons, I'm a stickler to the law. It's certainly less risky that way. Although, I reserve the right to even rebel against the law if I find it egregiously unjust. I haven't encountered laws like this yet.
Will The Immense Center be a standalone novel or do you have plans for a sequel or a series?
I have no plans of creating a sequel to The Immense Center. However, there are mentions of other worlds and ideas for other stories hidden in the book. The next few fiction books I write will have their catalyst in the events of The Immense Center; you could say that they are in-universe. But, the stories and the plots will be completely their own. For example, there is mention in The Immense Center of The Grays and how they came to visit Earth. I think there's a story there. There are others that are also very interesting and intriguing to me. But, the next project is non-fiction and is occupying my time, so I have to let those ideas simmer a bit and return to them later. But, because writing fiction is so therapeutic for me, I'll probably be dabbling in these stories soon.
From where do you draw your inspiration and ideas?
Wow, what a difficult question. I'm a liar. I had a rough childhood and making shit up was my way of coping. I found I could impress people with utter fiction and have some meager respect or friendship from them. But, ultimately, I was telling lies. As I grew older, I struggled with this very deep pattern and habit. Writing stories for me is a way to take my ability to invent, create, and imagine and put it to good use. I've always imagined other worlds and strange scenarios as a way to help myself get to sleep. I've read plenty of imaginative books from Tolkien and Lewis and others. I've watched many imaginative movies and played many imaginative games. All of that feeds into this system that needs an outlet and writing is one of those ways I let all that stuff out.
Describe a typical working day for you as a writer.
I could never write full time, so my typical working day is filled with all kinds of things. I am what is called a polymath. Writing to me is an expression of my imagination and creativity. But, it isn't the only expression of my creativity. I am also an inventor, artist, photographer, composer, and designer. So, my typical day is spent being creative and desperately trying to find a little money to pay the bills. The first part comes naturally, the second part isn't so easy.
When I'm writing, however, it's a blessing. I've found a system that works for me and I just dive in. No formatting, no self-editing, no agenda; I just write. Later, I put all the pieces together to get it published. And, that's the hard part. Publishing a book is 5% writing and 95% everything else.
To what extent did you wrestle with your personal beliefs and issues when writing the book?
Immensely. I don't mean to make light of this with my pun, but this book was seven years in the making. I wrestled with many of my personal beliefs through those years and where I am currently is a significantly different place than where I started. I've spent a lot of time in the Christian Church and most of that time was painful and hard. I found more reasons for depression and anger by being involved with the Christian Church than with any other group of people I've ever encountered. Fundamentally, I was so tired of the 6-day-creation, anti-science, conservative, evangelical, American church. I was tired of their sniper-style assault on sexuality and their blind eye to gossip, slander, and pride. I needed to find my own way. The Immense Center is a new way of thinking about things, a new start for me, a bold look at belief and religion and science and humanity. Did I get it right? Probably not. Did it help me grow? Absolutely.
Given your life-long interest in science fiction, can you see yourself writing in other genres?
Most definitely. As I mentioned above, I have a diverse range of interests. So, my next book is non-fiction. After that, I have a few fantasy book ideas. I have a few book ideas that are a mix of science fiction and fantasy. I have some post-apocalyptic book ideas. I have some spy novel ideas. And, I have a memoir-style-paranormal book idea. The whole point is actively engaging the imagination, and to not limit myself.
Yes, I know that multi-genre authors are a bad idea and that audiences don't like that. Well, this is one of those rules I don't like. And I suspect most authors would love to branch out like J.K Rowling and Steven King do under pseudonyms. But, when you think of it, early literature wasn't sliced and divided into genre. This is an invention of the 20th century and I think it's time for something new. I think the audience can adapt, they're smart people and they have just as diverse interests as the authors. The publishing industry is already going through dramatic change, I see this as part of it... but then again, I'm 5% troublemaker.
How does writing tie in with your family life and your roles as husband and father?
Well first, we go camping and I tell stories around the campfire. This is the source of my first two books, which are children's novelettes (published under the nom de plume, Professor MacKay). But, more so, I am very serious about my children finding their passion and actively engaging their imagination. Both of my sons have started writing and my oldest is in a writing club at his school. Their skill is far greater than mine was at that age and I couldn't be prouder. But, they may never become professional authors or writers, and I'm okay with that. I see their imagination is strong and their creativity is deep. Whatever they decide to do, I know those two tools will aid them.
But, the same applies to my relationship with my wife. Applying a little imagination in a marriage is good. It helps us dream and set goals. It also helps us find creative ways to have fun. But, I don't think we should get too deep into that.
How are you finding life as an author and what have been the reactions from family, friends and the reading public?
Life as an author isn't really any different than life as any other profession. It's a lot of hard work. It's scary. It isn't secure. It requires a degree of tenacity to be successful. But, I contend, every profession on the planet is the same. Yes, I'm not a full-time employee of someone else. Yes, I have to "scrape by" most of the time. Yes, I have to deal with a lot of business that I don't like. That really isn't different from holding a corporate job except I'm not holding on to the illusion of safety.
It's hard for my family, but good-hard, not bad-hard. My family has come to realize that when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, we work well as a team. We have a synergy and choreography that we fall into to get things done. It requires taking risks and trying something hard to discover this kind of thing about a family, but I believe this is what families are made for.
Like you, I have been criticised for profanity in my writing, and like you I am unapologetic. Tell us why you feel that way.
Declaring some words as "profane" and others and "acceptable" is an unreasonable human convention (see above). There is actual hard science that shows that using profanity acts as an analgesic. It also has the affect of making one more approachable by those that don't feel like they have it all together.
But, the real reason I use profanity in my writing is that I use it in real life. If I left it out of my writing, it would sound stilted and fake. Especially for The Immense Center, I needed the protagonist to be very relatable. So, "Holy Shit!" and "No way in hell..." show up in the book. But, otherwise, it's fairly mild. I have plans for future books that won't be so mild, so I guess this little bit of profanity will be a warning to the profanity-sensitive audience.
The Immense Center has a beautiful cover - did you design it yourself or did you hire someone?
I designed the cover myself. As I mentioned before, I'm a designer and I've worked professionally as a designer for nearly 20 years. I had intended to hire somebody, but when I mocked up the cover for my business coach and my business manager, they both agreed that this was the cover to use. It went through several refinements before arriving at the final cover, but altogether, I couldn't spend too much time on it. So, the final cover is completely me and saved us the cost of a cover designer (which ultimately helps the author, right?)
Thank you, Michael!
It's been good to talk to you! For those of you who'd like to know more, here's a synopsis of The Immense Center:
There's more than one universe and most of them will be coming to an end. Time is accelerating, the multiple dimensions are collapsing and all existences will cease. But, there is a way to escape. Multidimensional, time-traveling beings are working to help humans and extraterrestrials from every galaxy in every possible universe escape the end. Another group of multidimensional, time-traveling beings don't want this plan to succeed. Go on an adventure through time and other universes to meet interesting people and creatures on other planets and in other timelines. Join the fight against the ones causing the destruction. Meet the truth head-on and find a way to escape.
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