Today we’re here to discover a fantasy writer, Michael Smith, author of The Road to Ascendance. As the author says, it’s a saga “with heroes and nightmare foes, themes of morality, religion, self-sacrifice, and the value of sentient life permeating each choice, each conflict, each miracle.”
Michael holds a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and a master’s degree in Biology Education. For the last 12 years he has worked for a company that manufactures educational hardware and software that helps individuals with Attention Deficit Disorder focus more effectively. In his spare time, Michael writes fiction novels and practices/teaches Mixed Martial Arts. Don’t make him mad
So, welcome to Getting Personal, Michael. How do you feel about being interviewed?
At first I thought there were WAY too many questions. But I’m drunk right now, so I’m cool with it.
Ah, didn’t I tell you had to choose from the questions I sent you? Sorry ’bout that. Must have been a senior moment. You’ve a few books under your belt, Michael—more later—what is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?
Accepting that fact that you suck when you first start. But the good thing is, you never know you suck when you first start, so I guess the real challenge is just staying with it long enough to get good.
Isn’t that true? The only certainty about writing and trying to be a writer is that, eventually, the ego falls apart like a soaked sponge. But that’s can be a good. Those who believe their first attempts are masterpiece will always stick to that initial quality (or lack thereof). Unfortunately for the readers, Amazon published slush pile is the largest in the world. So, tell us about your first work.
It’s an epic fantasy fiction novel, The Road to Ascendance with the main protagonists being college-aged Americans from the late 1990’s who find themselves in a medieval world of magic and monsters.
Is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know about it?
Aside from the fantasy elements, I think “The Road to Ascendance” is about the relationship between close siblings, and how that very specific bond affects every aspect of an individual’s life.
That’s a theme that should resonate with many readers. What else readers can find from you?
The sequels to The Road to Ascendance—Ascendance Born (Children of Ascendance Chronicles), The Sender (Children of Ascendance Chronicles, Book 3), and Lazarus’s Heir (Children of Ascendance Chronicles – Book 4).
What about the titles of your novels?
What about them???
Okaaay… next question. How much impact does your childhood have on your writing?
A huge amount, but it’s hard to quantify. I think that writing for me is a joy, but the place it comes from is one of pain. I think my current humor comes through, (almost unintentionally), but the hardships of my childhood are the driving force.
What’s your drive for writing?
It is fun for me. I’d like to tell you I write to make a living at it, but that’s never been why I do it. I would LOVE for that to be the case, but in the end, it’s all about telling the stories I want to tell… perhaps just for me.
You mentioned hardship before; writing can be difficult when all needs of all kinds are satisfied. So, what was the greatest thing you learned at school?
Let’s use that and describe for us your writing process. When and where do you write?
I start with an idea, but never outline or plan the plot. It occurs organically. And I usually write when I’m drinking.
Ray Bradbury said: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” I’m not sure it really works for everyone but it speaks for those burning void sensations that sometimes trigger writing. What was the biggest challenge you faced writing your books, especially at the beginning, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was that I was a shitty writer. And I overcame that by writing and editing and writing and editing and so on and so forth for 10-15 years or more.
The sucking period, right? Stephen King says that before we start to write we need to have written a million words. The threshold might be different for every writer but there are things that can never be learnt if not by writing, rewriting, editing, and reediting. From your 10-15 years spent with the written word, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Your writing is not as good as you think it is, but it can be. It will take a SHIT TON of work and revision and editing, but if you stick with it, like any skill, you will attain mastery.
That’s a positive thought. All starts with humility and then ends up with Oscar Wilde: “The other day I spent the morning putting in a comma, and spent the afternoon taking it out.” What is your favorite genre to read?
I can’t say I lean towards a particular genre, because if the writing and the story is good, I will love it. I guess the best answer to that question is any story in which I can put myself as a character.
Then the question comes naturally: which character are you in your books?
In “Ascendance Born”, I wrote the character of “Jacob” to be me when I’m in my fifties. But, truth be told, the main protagonist of all of the “Children of Ascendance” chronicles, Michael Descado, is a braver, less crazy version of my own psyche.
And then they say reality can’t beat fiction What is the most demeaning thing said about you as a writer?
So far, I haven’t gotten any really negative feedback.
Don’t fret, it will arrive. It arrives to everyone. How do you react to a bad review of one of your books?
Haven’t had one yet.
Don’t fret, it will arrive. It arrives to everyone Do you read reviews of your books? How do they affect you?
Yes. So far all have been positive, so I’m not sure they actually “affect” me, other than as positive reinforcement.
Do you research your novels?
Yes, but only as I go along. As knowledge I don’t have is needed, I start to research.
We have a clear advantage with respect to authors of the past. Are you jealous of other writers?
I think I can say with absolute candor and certainty that “jealousy” has never been an emotion I’ve experienced while reading another writer’s work. To me, jealousy would only be possible if I thought I was incapable of reaching the same level. I mean, I’m not “jealous” of other martial artists who are faster, stronger, more skilled, etc., of me… No, I appreciate them, I learn from them, I glean knowledge from them, but being jealous? No way! I think you’d have to be a selfish fuck head to literally be jealous of something you can’t do.
That’s the right attitude. Better writers do exist, absolute best writers don’t. We all have to learn from others’ works, appreciate their skills, learn from them, digesting and become better writers ourselves. Usually it happens with reading a lot. Who are your favorite books or authors?
Anything written by Anne Rice or David Gemmell.
What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
Alcohol… patience… the ability to take criticism.
It’s a lifetime learning process. And now, Michael, it’s time to Get Personal!
What do you consider your biggest failure?
The “tight jeans” phase I went through during the eighties.
Had hard time to fit in? Are you fun to go on vacation with?
That depends. If certain things work out as I “need” them to, like a nice clean hotel room, and a bunch of bars on the beach within walking distance, then yes, I am the best person ON EARTH to be on vacation with. You will shit yourself laughing! But if things suck, if everything goes wrong, I will do everything I can to make it right… and if that fails, if mishap after mishap continues to happen beyond my control, there will come a threshold where I LOSE MY SHIT and just want to go home.
Because of your martial arts skills I’d have expected you to flatten the all place when you’d lost it. Just wanting to go home sounds mellow and reasonable. Speaking of which, if you were going instead to commit the perfect murder, how would you go about it?
I’ve actually written a novel about that kind of thing, and I think the easiest (most successful) method is to covertly trip your victim in such a way that they fall into incoming traffic.
I’ll walk with you only in area covered thoroughly by surveillance traffic cameras. What are you ashamed of?
I’m ashamed of every time I let my own insecurities drive me to put other people down.
How many people have you done away with over the course of your career?
Fictional people? Thousands. Real people? That’s none of your business.
What’s the most blatant lie you’ve ever told?
When I was 7 years old, I told my mom I was abducted by aliens in the field behind my elementary school.
After all these years, you can finally admit it. You weren’t in the field behind your elementary school! Have you ever been in trouble with the police?
I got a DUI in college, and later, in my thirties, I spend a night in the drunk tank for telling an Asheville magistrate to go fuck himself.
Magistrates have no sense of humor. When were you last involved in a real-life punch-up?
I’m not sure what a “punch-up” is, but if you mean a fight, it was 3 or 4 years ago. I got into a fight with my drunken neighbor, who was being insanely belligerent. I took him to the ground and choked him unconscious. Unfortunately, while yanking him to the ground, I landed on my butt (on a concrete street) and bruised my coccyx so much that I couldn’t sit down for 3 weeks. Using the toilet was a nightmare, as it became a contest between what would yield first… my bowels, or the upper body strength I was using to hold myself over the seat.
At least you must have developed good triceps. Do you ever wish that you had an entirely uncreative job, like data entry or working in a factory?
I had a job like that, as a customer service representative in a call center. I hated it. So no, I do not wish to have an entirely uncreative job.
It’s always a surprise. It’s never pain, but emotionally heavy stuff? Well done movies or television shows? Yeah, they’ll take me off guard every once in a while. Tonight I was watching Downton Abbey, and I started to tear up. Yeah, that happened. So I guess what makes me cry is the same kind of stuff as most people, (because, ya know, that’s a popular show!)
What makes you laugh?
I like humor based on quick edits. Like something happens, and then you see an observer’s reaction for just a second, and then the scene cuts away. That stuff KILLS me!!! Also, characters acting really confident and self assured amidst an absurd situation. So they think they’re appearing intelligent, but to the observer, they look like buffoons.
Modern Family is a good television example. Excellent humor there!!!
Shock humor gets me too, though. Like, in a totally causal situation, someone says the most politically incorrect thing imaginable. Gets me every time, whether I hate myself for laughing or not.
I like politically incorrect statements. They ring true. Political correctness brought me not to believe anymore anyone’s opinion on certain topics. What’s the loveliest thing you have ever seen?
That changes all the time. Last morning, I got up early and walked around my hometown of Asheville, NC. Being late October, all the leaves are changes, and when you add that to the brisk fall breeze, it was the loveliest thing I’d ever seen.
Yes, when Nature dresses up with golds, and reds, and prepares for the winter it can be breathtaking. What is your favorite bedtime drink?
Jim Beam and caffeine free diet Pepsi.
Do you believe in a deity?
Do you ever write naked?
You know, that was a tricky question. Have you ever found true love?
Not since I was a teenager. I think we feel things more profoundly when we’re young. As an adult, no, I don’t think I’ve found “true love”.
I’ve been lucky. I found it when I was 18 and had been able to keep it alive. A bit like the main character in my novel Daimones: “Mary had just turned sixteen when we first met. Something of young lovers remained between us, even after thirty-two years, a twelve-year-old daughter, and life in three countries.” And now, questions in rapid succession and answers without thinking or taking a breath:
Who would play you in a film of your life?
No idea. Seriously.
Do you laugh at your own jokes?
Do you admire your own work?
How many times a day do you think about death?
What are books for?
To read, silly!
Well, some are great at many other tasks. We are about to part, Michael. What do you want to be when you grow up?
I think writing full time would be awesome… until it actually happened, and people were counting on me to meet deadlines, and suddenly I’m stressed out and not writing because it’s no longer fun. So, with that I mind, I think my ideal profession, (what I’m best suited for), is a martial arts instructor.
Last question from me. Why do you think what you do matters?
I don’t think it matters at all, in the grand scheme of things… except to me, and those few lives I have the privilege to “touch” with the stuff I write. Ultimately I’m one person on a planet with 7 billion others, in a solar system among billions of others, within a galaxy among a universe with billions of other galaxies. Nothing I do truly matters, except in the almost miniscule context of my life, and the lives of those upon which I have an impact.
And last question from you <the question you’re really burning to give an answer to>
Do I like chicken wings? Yes, I do like them.
Thanks Michael for your time and for sharing these moments with readers. I wish you a pleasant discovery path with your writing, not a track without obstacles and thorns but one that will let you grow as a writer, overcome any obstacle to your success, and learn how to not be held back by the thorns life lays on our journey.