irst of all thank you to Misha for agreeing to let me interview him, it’s been a while since I got to interview anyone and I really missed it. I love hearing about author’s stories and what got them into writing and why they do it and Misha’s was probably one of the most fascinating. There’s a memoir in here somewhere. For those of you who don’t remember I like to sprinkle my own thoughts in here and there, but I will mark them as such.
Daily Racewood: What got you started in writing?
Misha: My mother. My mother did and does love books—she works now as a freelance writer and editor. She read to my sister and I when we were growing up, and the house was always filled with books. Consequently I grew up reading, and not always “kids books”. Poetry in particular, I can remember reading T S Eliot and Oscar Wilde when I was far too young to really understand the concepts discussed, I was just in love with the rhythm and the beauty of the language. She’s also a science fiction fan, and so I didn’t find out that science fiction isn’t considered “real literature” until I was in high school. By then it was too late—I’d read too much from writers like Bradbury and Clarke to ever be able to dismiss a book because it deals with speculative concepts. I didn’t know that sci-fi wasn’t considered real fiction until just this moment….
DR: What’s your favorite genre to write in? Would you ever step outside that genre?
MB: Well, to continue my above answer, “genre” isn’t really a concept that I have much use for. I wrote a fairly long guest post on Robin Tidwell’s blog asking the question, “Is There Such A Thing As Genre?” To sum up what I say there, I think that genre is something imposed upon an author’s work from without, by librarians and booksellers. I use fantastic and speculative elements in my current series because they suit the story I want to tell. If I tell a different story, I’ll use different elements.
DR: Did you self publish? Why or why not?
MB: I did, and I intend to keep doing so. Why? Well, because I think it’s the best option for my work. I did a lot of research before I decided to go ahead and self-publish, and I did send out a boatload of query letters to agents. About one out of ten agents replied, actually, and those that did sent an automated reply. Right or wrong, I got the feeling that I wasn’t going to get anywhere with traditional publishing, and went ahead and did it myself. One book that did influence my decision was Elisa Hategan’s brilliant Alice In Writerland, a very personal memoir of her experiences with legacy agents. Another book I will have to check out soon. I definitely know the pains of querying to agents and getting no responses, that to me was always worse than just an outright no.
DR: Tell us a little bit about your book.
MB: It’s basically a film noir plot—my protagonist, through no fault of his own, gets caught up in a conspiracy that he doesn’t understand and tries to figure out what’s going on before somebody kills him. Along the way he meets a damsel in distress who has other pieces of the puzzle and they fall in love. James is basically a very simple man, who just happens to have an alien intelligence he calls Catskinner living in his head. I set out to write an urban fantasy/science fiction novel in an entirely new world—I don’t have any zombies or werewolves or vampires or fairies in my book. The fantastic elements are mostly drawn from William Burroughs and Samuel Delany, actually.
DR: You, like myself and probably like most authors like to keep new projects hush hush, but is there any kind of exclusive you can give us about your upcoming project?
MB: I have two, actually. The first is Cannibal Hearts, which is a sequel to Catskinner’s Book, and I am about halfway done with it—I hope to have it out in the summer. The other is a project that I have just launched called The Fauxpocalypse Project. It’s a collaborative world that I hope will interest other authors—my goal is to produce a book of short stories by indie authors all set in the same fictional universe. I’m actually quite fascinated by the idea of a collaborative author effort, and yet terrified at the same time, because I’m so used to working alone. I’d like to hear more about this in the future.
DR: Who are your favorite authors?
MB: Donald Westlake, Robert Heinlein, William Burroughs, Edna St. Vincent Millay, G. K. Chesterton, Charles Fort, China Mieville, T S Eliot, Jim Butcher, Samuel Delany, Robert Frost, Tannith Lee, C S Lewis, Ray Bradbury, Tim Powers, Tom Waits, John Carpenter, Daniel Pinkwater—man, I could do this all day… I read everything.
I should give a shout out to some of my favorite indie authors—Michelle Proulx, Glynn James, Kendra Highley, Katherine Sorin, Shannon Yarbrough. I know I’m forgetting some. Go to my GoodReads page and check out my reviews.
DR: What would you be doing if you weren’t an author?
MB: Fixing stuff. I do building maintenance right now to pay the bills, I’ve always had mechanical jobs. Machines fear and obey me.
DR: What do you like to do outside of writing?
MB: Honestly? Sit on the couch and watch TV. I am a huge fan of streaming television. Right now I’d list The Walking Dead, Lost Girl, and Supernatural as my favorites. I loved the first few seasons of Dexter, but I think the show has drifted from its original focus. My partner and I tend to take a series and binge-watch the whole thing. Oh my Rowling, thank you! I was beginning to think I was the only author who liked a little tv resting time now and then. I feel like there’s such a stigma that all authors do is write or read, so it’s nice to know I’m not alone. And I loovee Supernatural as you can read about here. (At least I think that’s the right one)
DR: What is your favorite type of book to read?
MB: The fun kind. As I get older I get less impressed with “literary” fiction and more interested in a good fast read with enjoyable characters. I want excitement and gee-whiz and stuff blowing up. At fifty I find that my taste has pretty much gone back to what it was at fifteen. I’m okay with that—I got nothing to prove.
DR: What is your favorite quote on writing (or just quote in general).
MB: “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” which is usually attributed to Sam Goldwyn of MGM. I think fiction should entertain, first and foremost, and that we as writers should eschew polemic. This is why I find Ayn Rand’s fiction completely unreadable, even though I am in substantive agreement with Objectivist philosophy. Too many times I have seen good fiction spoiled by characters who are clearly just mouthpieces for a particular philosophical or political viewpoint. Yes, every character should have a philosophy and a political viewpoint, and sometimes people do talk about such things. But let’s leave the morals to Aesop, and just get to the part where the monsters jump out, okay? I may have a rejoinder to this coming soon.
DR: Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
MB: I don’t know that I have one biggest inspiration. As a writer, I probably admire G. K. Chesterton more than any other writer, because he always maintained his perspective and never lost his temper in print—no matter how strenuously he disagreed with what someone said, he always treated the person with respect and courtesy. In Heretics, for example, he takes on a dozen of the most admired writers of his day and dissects their philosophies with utterly ruthless efficiency, without once making any personal attacks on the writers themselves. Today’s political pundits could learn a lot from reading Chesterton.
DR: What advice could you give to aspiring authors?
MB: Write, publish, repeat. You are going to find a lot of flaws in your first book after it is published, because the act of writing and publishing will teach you things. We learn by doing. Your work will never be as good as you want it to be, just make it as good as you can, and use what you learn from your mistakes to make the next one better. I wish I could frame this quote. Because it’s so true and so something we all need to see every day. In gigantic letters scrawled across the wall.
DR: Anything else you’d like to add?
MB: It’s very hip right now to talk about the “e-book revolution” and what it means, but I don’t think any one person can see what it all means—we’re too close to it. It’s still going on, and I don’t believe that anybody is able to see how it’s all going to shake out. There are a lot of different parts to what is happening in publishing at the moment, and some folks focus on the financial aspects, some folks focus on the technological aspects, some folks focus on the social aspects.
My personal hobbyhorse is the transformation I see in the entire concept of “genre” as it applies to fiction. I touched on it above, but I want to revisit the issue.
For about a generation, authors in the Western World have been taught to do what I call “writing to the schematic”. Chain bookstores were the major outlets for books, and they were all laid out a particular way that was set by a marketing executive. Bestsellers in front, romance over there, mysteries against that wall, science fiction in the back under the leaky pipes, poetry pretty much not anywhere, except maybe a copy of Leaves Of Grass that someone ordered by mistake and put in with the gardening books.
Publishers would structure their lists to suit the chains—so many mysteries, so many romances, so many sports books, and so on. Agents, naturally, would select the books they represented based on the publishers lists. A writer, in order to get an agent, would have to pitch a book so that the agent could sell it to publisher, who was looking to publish books that would get a spot in the chain bookstores.
All of this happened so gradually that the people throughout the industry honestly believed that they were giving the people what they want, but in reality, they were giving the people what the marketing executive who set up the schematic could find shelf space for.
So if you had a story about someone looking for her husband’s murderer, that was a “mystery” and it had better fit the mystery profile—car chase in chapter five, gun battle in chapter ten, and the murderer revealed as the victim’s best friend in chapter fifteen.
On the other hand, if a story had a dragon in it, it went into “fantasy” all the way over on the other side of the store, and it got a cover with a elf maiden with a chain mail bikini and a battle ax.
Well, nowadays that marketing executive is faxing out resumes and studying C++ in night school because the writing is on the wall for the chain store model. We don’t need him to get our work to the public anymore, and we don’t need to follow his rules. There is absolutely no reason that an e-book has to fit on just one shelf.
So if someone wants to write a story about a dragon who takes on human form to track down the party of adventurers who killed her mate, she can just go ahead and write the story without worrying about if it’s a “mystery” or a “fantasy” novel. If it’s a good story, people will find it and buy it. I would.
DR: Thanks again for doing this interview with me. I know you have a lot more to say on the subject of genre and I’m actually thinking about sponsoring a sort of genre month. I’d like to get a multiple author viewpoint on the subject, what is genre, how does it help or hurt an author while writing a story, etc. Anybody who’s interested feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can learn more about Misha Burnett and his books by checking out his blog.