We are on a ROLL with interviews lately! Today we get to welcome another brilliant author to the Drunken Space Penguin, Mike Reeves-McMillan. Mike is the author of Realmgolds, a steampunk fantasy book, and the first book in the Gryphon Clerks series. Let's get started with a quick bio from the author!
"Mike Reeves-McMillan lives in Auckland, New Zealand, surrounded by trees.
He’s almost certainly the world’s only steampunk-fantasy author who holds a master’s degree in English, a certificate in health science, an Advanced Diploma of Hypnotherapy and a certificate in celebrant studies (rituals for transition through crisis). He's worked as an editor for a major publishing house, which is just one of the reasons he has no interest in being published by a major publishing house."
Fantastic! Now, on with the interview!!
Mike: I live in Auckland, New Zealand. One of my favourite things to do (other than writing) is to take my kayak out on some of the beautiful bays and streams we have hereabouts.
DSP: Nice to meet you! So tell us, where did you find the inspiration for your most recent book?
Mike: Realmgolds turned up unexpectedly when I was writing another story set in the same time period, but in a different location and with mostly different characters. (That story will also come out some day, when I've sorted it out properly.)
DSP: So, do you have any kind of ritual for writing? Such as, you have to write with music on, or you can only write when you’re completely alone, etc
Mike: I've become a lot less precious about having to write under certain conditions. In my day job, I write complex software specifications, and in a noisy project room where people are always interrupting you to ask you questions, you learn to write regardless.
DSP: Who is your favorite character in your book, and why? How about the character you had the most trouble with?
Mike: I have two favourites. The protagonist is a young man named Determined. He loves books, like I do, and he really wanted to be a history teacher, but he has to step up and become the leader that nobody expects him to be. My other favourite is his main ally, Victory. People talk about writing “strong female characters”, and what they usually mean is either “headstrong women who keep doing stupid things they have to be rescued from” or “funny-shaped men who occasionally talk about shoes but mostly just shoot things”. Victory is neither of those. When she comes into a room, everyone straightens up and looks busy. I had to work hard to make sure she didn't take over the whole book.
The one I had the most trouble with was the antagonist, who's a rabble-rousing bigot. I never really wanted to get into his head for some reason.
DSP: Now, when you sit down to write a book, a paragraph, or whatever you‘re working on at the moment, do you just sit down in front of the computer, or do you need an outline of some sort? Is there any other prep you need in order to organize your thoughts either before you write or in the process of writing?
Mike: I'm in transition from being a pantser to being more of an outliner. I have a synopsis for the book I'm working on at the moment, the next Gryphon Clerks book, which is something I've never done before. I have arcs written down for the characters, using the Dan Wells Seven-Point Structure. And usually before I sit down to write, I have some of the scene already written in my head. I fill in a lot of detail in front of the keyboard, though, and it often goes in directions I didn't expect.
DSP: Do you foresee any more books to continue this story? If so, do you think we can get a taste of what’s to come?
Mike: Oh, definitely. I currently have synopses for two more books and concepts for a couple more after that. The one I'm working on now, Hope and the Clever Man, deals with a character who's mentioned in the first book, though he never appears, and several other characters who aren't mentioned, but without whom the events of the first book would have gone very differently. The first book is at the high political level, and the second zooms down to the people who make the wheels go round.
DSP: Other than this most recent story, do you have any ideas for different books that might be published in the future? Care to give us a teaser?
Mike: One of the concepts I have is for a military skyship that is sent on a mission to scout out air routes for trade. It's kind of a steampunk Star Trek. I've written a short story which will probably be the prologue, and the characters are a lot of fun. There's a brusque female captain of humble origins who's clawed her way up through sheer determination, and an aristocratic heir who got his commission because of who his mother knows, for example, so the conflict is baked right in.
DSP: Who is your greatest inspiration to write? What person makes you believe in yourself, and how?
Mike: I'm inspired by several people who are making a living as indie authors. Lindsay Buroker, for example, and Debora Geary, who writes wonderful stories that break all the rules and sell like nobody's business. At one point she had four of the top five slots in the fantasy section of the Kindle store, and some guy called George R.R. Martin was number six.
DSP: Do you have any aspirations to be similar or comparable to another author? Why?
Mike: I'd like to be where Lindsay Buroker is, not only because she also writes steampunk fantasy and it's ranking well on Amazon, but also because she's very smart and professional. I first picked up her books because I was impressed with the sensible, well-written articles on her blog.
DSP: What has been the biggest high since becoming a published author?
Mike: It's great to have someone, especially someone who's a fellow author and knows a good book when they see one, tell you that they're a fan and promote your work without even being asked. That's happened a couple of times.
DSP: Have you named the computer you use for writing?
Mike: Never thought of doing that. It's a Macbook, so maybe I should call it Steve.
DSP: Has becoming an author changed you, or the way you think about certain things? If so, how?
Mike: Oh, yes. You pay attention to the world differently. I'm always thinking about any unusual thing, or even everyday thing, “How could I use that in a story?” Because I'm writing books set in a secondary world, not our world, it's a fun puzzle to translate something I see into that other world's terms. The other day I was walking past some musicians doing a sound check for a street festival, and by the time I was out of earshot I'd come up with a style of music called Heart and Bird and had the beginnings of two minor characters and a subplot.
DSP: What is your greatest fear about being an author?
Mike: I have two equal and opposite fears. One is complete obscurity. The other is becoming so famous that it cuts me off from people. I don't think either of those is going to happen, though.
DSP: Which of the characters in your book do you feel is the most like yourself, and in what way?
Mike: Determined, my main character, is always happiest in a library.
DSP: From the first word to the moment it became available for purchase, how long did it take you to write and publish this most recent novel?
Mike: Sixteen months. Remember, it arose out of another story entirely, so I'm counting from when I started that one. Can I point out that with traditional publication, it can quite easily take longer than that from acceptance to publication? And in my case, that includes a couple of months of back-and-forth with a development editor, because I don't want to rush out some half-baked early draft.
DSP: What are your thoughts on string?
Mike: I have various string theories. But I can't tell you how long a piece of it is.
DSP: Do you have any talents you haven’t shared with us?
Mike: I practiced for a while as a hypnotherapist. (That feeds in to some of the magic in the book.)
Awesome interview!! Let's hear a bit about his book, Realmgolds.
The Human Purity movement is growing in power and influence in Denning, attacking dwarf businesses and caravans and inciting popular rebellion, with the passive or active support of many of the ruling Golds.
Opposing them almost alone is the Realmgold, a young man named Determined. His problem is that, even though the Realmgold is meant to be in charge, nobody is paying much attention to him.
Victory, who rules neighbouring Koskant, would love to support Determined, but an ancient magical treaty between their realms means she can’t send in her troops, her skyboats or her pressure guns. What she can do, though, is share a new magical communications technology – and her elite corps of Gryphon Clerks…
And now, for an extra special treat, an excerpt from Realmgolds:
A small dwarf caravan wound its dusty way towards the Thunder Gorge dwarfhold in the northwest of Denning. Its members, six mules, four gnomes, the dwarf in charge, and a centaur guard, had pushed hard to get to the hold before dark, but they weren’t quite going to achieve it. The night was drawing in, and the mules would soon be stumbling on rough patches of the poorly-maintained road. The small caravan’s centaur guard was known, like all centaur caravan guards, as Muscles, though his given name was Tree. He looked away to preserve his vision as Pack of Sevenhills, the dwarf, lit the travel-globes on each beast’s harness, assisted by his gnome leader, Pot.
Muscles was picturing being beside a warm fire with a drink in his hand and out of his leather barding when he heard a ruckus from up the road. He came alert despite his weariness, and quickly strung his bow, then held it low by his side.
“Just drunken locals, by the sound,” said Pack.
“Maybe,” said Muscles. “I’m taking no chances. Things are going to get ugly down here at some point.”
Rounding a corner, they came upon a small mob of humans. They showed signs, as Pack had said, of drunkenness, but the light of burning torches mingled with the yellowish magical light of Pack’s travel-globes, and there were a surprising number of farm implements for the time of evening.
“Well,” said a human near the front of the group, “what have we here?”
“Looks like de-gen-e-rates,” slurred one of his companions, who was eyeing the mules and their burdens.
“Three-fingered degenerates and a half-beast,” agreed the first. “What do you say, boys?”
“Purity!” shouted the mob raggedly, waving their farm implements.
“Let’s get them!” the second human cried out, and they fanned out and began a ragged charge, chanting “Pu-ri-ty, pu-ri-ty” and lowering their implements like spears or raising them like swords, depending on the length of the shaft.
Muscles’ bow came up, an arrow from the quiver on his back met it, and he drew and fired in less time than it takes to blink. The first speaker, apparently the leader, fell with a cry, Muscles’ shaft protruding from his left shoulder. Almost before he hit the ground, his yes-man got the same treatment.
A couple of nearby humans faltered, seeing their two spokesmen fall. One took to his heels, and the other stumbled back and fell on his buttocks with a grunt, then, after a moment, started crawling away. Most of them, though, were too fixated on their attack to notice (and too drunk).
A third human fell to an arrow — a big man with a reasonably sharp pickaxe — before the six who hadn’t yet fallen or fled reached the little caravan.
Muscles reared, and gave his war cry. He had trained the mules well, and they swapped end-for-end and began to kick out at their attackers. One, propelled by hooves, flew through the air like a sack full of straw, struck the ground heavily and lay still. Another, faced with Muscles’ own hooves windmilling in his face, covered his eyes with his forearms and stumbled backwards, where he tripped over the big man’s body and fell down. He continued to cower as Muscles hauled his broadsword from its straps on his back, next to his quiver, and decapitated a hayfork. The hayfork’s wielder dropped it hurriedly and began backing away.
The fight had lasted perhaps sixteen heartbeats so far, and eight of the eleven were out of action. The remaining three, though, had surrounded the little knot of unarmed gnomes gathered around Pack and were beating on them with their implements. Pot fell, bleeding from his head.
Muscles bellowed, sounding more like a bull than a stallion, but there was a mule bucking between him and the gnomes. He reached over it with his long, muscular arms and slashed at the shoulder of the nearest man, at the fullest extension of the broadsword. The man blocked clumsily, but effectively, with his mattock, and it clanged.
The startled mule bolted, and Muscles surged forward and swung the flat of his blade from right to left, knocking one man out with the blade itself and a second with the sword’s grip and his large hand.
The third, the mattock man, heaved his improvised weapon up above his head preparatory to bringing it down at Muscles’ enormous chest. While Muscles appreciated his courage, he didn’t appreciate his intent. He caught the mattock on his blade with a thud that shuddered through the human’s hands, and kicked him precisely in the solar plexus with a heavy hoof.
Muscles surveyed the area. A couple more humans had fled, several were groaning more or less quietly, and three lay terminally still. The gnomes and Pack were looking stunned, a couple of them literally. Pot was sprawled at Pack’s feet, and even before Muscles bent and checked, he knew he wasn’t ever getting up again. He sheathed his sword, lifted the gnome and tucked him into one of his empty saddlebags.
“Careful!” said Pack.
“Not much point in being careful with him now, I’m afraid,” said Muscles. “Who else is badly hurt?”
There were a couple of broken arms, some bruises and a nasty concussion. Muscles scooped up the concussed gnome, rallied the others and double-timed them, with the remaining mules, in the direction of the dwarf hold. Pack was inclined to protest at leaving one of the mules lost in the darkness, but Muscles was in command under conditions of threat, and the caravan owner was overruled. “We don’t have time to look for it,” said the centaur. “Either it turns up or not. Our concern now is to get behind stone before those humans come back with reinforcements.”
Excellent! If you want to get in touch with Mike or buy his books, check out the following links!
How exciting! This has been a blast, and The Penguin and I have really enjoyed having Mike join us today. We wish you nothing but the best for the future, and look forward to having you back again! Thanks for the opportunity, Mike.