Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Yellow zone is for taxis; White zone is for Dragons...

Beginning his writing career between landing planes at the world's busiest airport, air-traffic controller J. Michael Radcliffe took nearly eight years to write his first novel. Land a plane, write a sentence; land a plane, write a sentence; land a dragon, write a sentence. I talked with one of his co-controllers who said, "Michael never seemed to feel the stress of guiding the planes. But, he could have saved a lot of time just bringing his laptop to the tower. The man kept jumping into a portal to get back to his study in Kentucky, and would scream a few words to his ghost-writer and then pop back. A few times he would barely put his head through, dictate his story bit; half of him hanging out of that weird swirl of light..."

Some writers just have the strangest methods...
Imagine, writing in complete darkness, but for the glow in the eyes of four cats. Or less plausible, grinding up newspapers in a whirlwind, to snatch pieces one by one from the maelstrom, for each word in the next sentence. Wizard Radcliffe (@Alderdrache which means Elder Dragon ) loves to experiment. I've been told he now trains ravens to type. (They get much more done, in the hour they are allowed in human form, but he hates to waste the other 23 hours with them idle.) My own fingers have erased a third of the keys on my laptop - I can't imagine what they look like after a flock of beaks.) Their favorite word?  Marmalade.

And you thought I would use Nevermore..... Ha!

Well, you are in for some surprises, reading Mr. Radcliffe's superb tome
The Guardian's Apprentice. I found it to be wonderfully inventive, and he created some surprises for even me. Here is the link to my review.

When a rich subject is approached by so many writers - and this magical realm has seen exposure since the Bible was first published - common themes surface. These writers have familiars, just as witches and wizards. Mr. Racliffe's familiar seems to be a Dragon. Actually, they also seem to be the backbone of his story. As some of the most ancient creatures in either world, the mundane or the magical, they certainly should have an important role. They have seen it all. Some of the darker things...they even like.

This is still not a saturated genre, regardless of what you might think, and readers are mad for it. Michael seems nowhere near running out of his own ideas. He's already produced short stories from the results of his first novel. Gathered together in anthology form, they are available separately as well. The collection is titled aptly Beyond the Veil Anthology: The World of The Guardian's Apprentice  Within its pages you will meet many of the creatures who dwell in Michael's world - some of them are quite nasty!

You can also read much more on his excellent blog here.

I invited Master Radcliffe to appear for an interview and he consented. The reason that I had to sit with my hand in green fire the whole time...that escapes me...

How many Dragon eggs have you hatched?
Ha! Can’t say I’ve actually hatched one yet, but they do make an omelet that feeds 15…
I love your story about Idris, your newly acquired desk sculpture. I had a lunchbox once that spoke to me the same way.
Finally! Somebody that understands!! (my kids just gave me the ‘look’…)

Nearly all writers can recall a single book, which ‘flipped that switch’ in their imagination. Which one was yours?
Wow, now that’s a tough question. When I was a socially inept teenager, books were my friends. Everything from Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series. I readily devoured every piece of fantasy, science fiction and mystery I could get my hands on. The original Sherlock Holmes stories remain among my favorites today, as well as James Clavell’s Noble House. If I had to choose just one book however, I would have to say the book that first flipped the switch was The Hobbit

Beyond the Veil Anthology, did you create those stories after Guardian’s Apprentice, or were they originally part of that project?
The short stories came about because my over-active imagination created more details and background than I could work into the novel. I keep a separate Word file with plot ideas, characters and creatures that I have continued to add to since publishing Guardian. Last Christmas we were on vacation in Florida and I was suddenly struck with an idea that became Tears for Hesh (shown below) – my first short. It was as if the words came in a flood out of nowhere and I couldn’t get them on paper (well, pixels, anyway) quickly enough.  Forsaken remains my favorite though – it tells the story of Nisha and how sometimes things aren’t always black and white.
Don't forget Scale of a Dragon (shown below)

What drew you into the magical world when you began to write?
I absolutely love world building. That’s the nice thing about Fantasy and Sci-Fi – you can create your own world. The rules of your universe still have to make sense however – unlimited magic or power can't make your main character undefeatable – but you still create the system you want. The poor characters in my stories have learned that if I’ve had a bad day, one or more of them is in for a rough chapter.  meus universitas , meus sceptrum  (my world, my rules!)

Writing became a safe place for you suddenly, and then a release?
Absolutely! I started writing in 2002 as a way to cope with stress. I lost a parent and a grandparent that year, and my then three year old had major surgery, and then I was downsized (I call it ‘the year that must not be named’…). Writing provided a creative outlet that helped burn off the emotions. It became a safe refuge when I needed it.

You hinted at the Red Order, and their frightening power, in your first book. Do they become the focus of book two?
Wise you are, Master Kirkpatrick (sorry – channeling my inner Yoda). The Red Order, and particularly their leader, are spellcasters you don’t trifle with. Death is bad enough, but a wizard or witch in red robes will do worse – they will try to ensnare and steal your soul. They will bind your very essence with the pure evil of the Shadow, thereby not only destroying your body, but keeping your spirit in eternal torment.
In Bloodstone – The Guardian’s Curse (due sometime soon)  you will get to meet the real power behind this group. Sava, Stealer of Souls, is a powerful necromancer seeking to control both the Earth and its magical twin.
I’d be remiss if I did not thank author Maria Savva, who kindly consented to my using a variation of her name – though I should point out that Maria is most certainly NOT evil! She just has a wonderful last name!

How long had you worked on your first book? I’d read that it was nearly eight years?
Yes, seven years, seven months and ten days (give or take).

What took so long? Did you rewrite very much of the story?
As I mentioned above, I started the story when I was downsized. The company I was with at the time was actually kind enough to give me two months notice. They knew I had no work to do but said they’d pay me through the end of the year and let me use my office for job hunting. I sketched out quite a bit of the story within the first six months, during down time between interviews, but then got busy with my new job. Procrastination was also my enemy – I would sometimes go for six months or more without writing a single word [hangs head in shame].
The story now is a different incarnation of the first idea I had, and it went through at least two significant rewrites. When originally done, I had about 32,000 words, compared to 71,000 now. I also joined a writing group called ‘’ where authors critique each other’s work – I strongly recommend this to any writer – I can’t tell you how helpful this was.
At this point I really must give credit to my sister however. She is a fellow author, published under the name Maeve Greyson, and writes paranormal romance novels. She encouraged me to keep at it. After she read the first draft she encouraged, threatened, cajoled and outright nagged me until I published it. She believed in my work when no one else did – and for that I can’t thank her enough.

Did you have a character in Guardian’s Apprentice who surprised you completely?
I have to admit, the villain really surprised me. I can’t say much more without a spoiler warning, but since you’ve read the book you’ll understand. Let’s just say the villain ended up being completely different than I thought he/she would.

Where are your books being read outside the U.S.?
According to my sales reports I’ve sold books in Canada and the U.K., though I must admit the biggest surprise was the number of sales in Australia. I’ve also noticed a fair number of visits to my website from those same countries.

What is your day job? I’ve heard you train horses?
Now that’s funny! Anyone that knows me will double over laughing when they picture me working with large animals. I can’t even get my cats to do as they are instructed!
My day job is the polar opposite of my writing persona. I’m the Compliance Officer for a community bank, which means I’m sort of an internal auditor. I specialize in reading and interpreting the various federal regulations and train our team members to ensure we abide by the law.
By day I have to be buttoned-down, serious and by-the-book, but in the evenings I can unleash my inner demons when I write.

Have you had any more visits from Evil Dr. Pork Chop?
Alas, the international pig of mystery has not returned. While I suspect she may have developed stealth technology that allows her to rummage about unseen, I consider it just as likely that Cocoa (a.k.a. The Evil One) caught and ate her.

Will any of your cats admit to being wizards, only allowed human form for a single hour each day?
Cats, like dragons, are loathe to give up their secrets. Plus I really don’t want to see Cocoa’s human form – she’s frightening enough as a cat!

Please describe how you came to embrace self-publishing.
That decision came about through utter frustration with the traditional publishing paradigm (sorry – don’t get to use that word much). After I finished Guardian, I sent off several queries, most of which I never heard from. Being a business professional, I become supremely annoyed when someone doesn’t respond – a courtesy ‘thanks but no thanks’ would have been fine. The thought of editors and agents just chucking manuscripts in the rubbish bin (or hitting the delete button) strikes me as arrogant; at least have the courtesy of sending a form rejection email.
Once I fiddled around with Amazon and Smashwords and found out (1) how easy it was and (2) how much better the royalty structure was, it was a no brainer. I had reached the conclusion that I would likely never be picked up by an agent or publisher because either (1) my story didn’t fit the current business model, (2) wasn’t today’s ‘hot’ genre or (3) *gasp* might not be worth reading (this is where my sister’s nagging came in handy, as she insisted it WAS worth reading).
I’m also amazed at how supportive other Indie authors have been. I stumbled across BestsellerBound by accident and I’m so glad I did! You, Darcia Helle, Maria Savva and others have been so incredibly helpful. Forming these new friendships has been just as rewarding as being able to pull up my book on Amazon!

Do you have any wizard’s robes?
I haven’t earned a full set yet, though I DO have a really cool black cape. I actually rescued one of our cats twenty feet up a tree while wearing a full vampire costume one Halloween, but that’s another story…

In Lord of the Rings, Frodo was in his fifties when he began his own quest. I was never able to put my mind around that, preferring the younger version that Elijah Wood brought to the screen. I know that Keegan is in his thirties – does it surprise you that I see him as barely out of his teens?
Actually it doesn’t surprise me at all! The funny thing is that when I go back and read the story now, I picture him as younger too. I now picture him in his early twenties.

Have you been tempted to experiment with audio books?
I haven’t explored that avenue yet, though I must admit the thought appeals to me if I could find the right voice for the right price. I’m betting Morgan Freeman or Stephen Fry wouldn’t come cheap, though.

My son saw your author pic on my laptop, thought it was me, and said I hadn’t looked that good in a long time.
Ha! We are fortunate to have the best of both worlds – guys with grey hair are supposed to be sexy AND wise!

If I asked you what a Tippet was, you would know, wouldn’t you?
Sadly, yes. Have to admit though; we don’t see them very much in Kentucky. I’m afraid most people around here would think a ‘Tippet’ was a small furry creature related to a weasel…

Tell us what your writing day is like.
I don’t sleep very much, that’s for certain. My day typically starts at 5:00 in the morning, when I check my emails, blast off a few quick tweets and (yes, I’ll admit it) check my sales on Amazon. (side note – I’ll admit to being a bit ‘CDO’ – that’s ‘OCD’ but with the letters in the right order. I keep a spreadsheet with how many units are sold by title, each day).
My actual writing occurs in short bursts of frenetic creativity. Normally in the evenings after 8:00 I open up my current work in process and dive in. Sometimes I may only add a paragraph before I’m interrupted, while other times I’ll write two or three chapters. Depends on how cooperative the muse is at the moment (fickle witch that she is).

Can you write in a busy house, or do you need absolute quiet?
Kids = Chaos. I’ve found I can write just fine while others watch television, play video games, try to dismember each other, etc. though I must admit I get more words out during the quiet moments. I’ve found I’m most productive on the weekends, since my brain forces me awake at 5:00 or 6:00 while everyone else is asleep. I usually end up with my laptop, coffee and at least one cat and am able to knock out a chapter or so before anyone else is up.

How far along Keegan’s journey are you going to take us?
I originally envisioned this as a trilogy, but now I truly believe I can tell the complete story in two books. Keegan is desperately seeking his place in the world, hoping to find inner peace and acceptance. I hope he will achieve that by the end of Bloodstone.
I have to admit though, I will probably continue writing short stories based on the characters and their backgrounds because it’s just so much fun.

Any other genres you hope to attempt?
Believe it or not, I have several notes jotted down for a Sci-Fi work. It is a political thriller set about a hundred years from now, but it is just in its infancy. I have to say stepping outside of fantasy is a bit frightening – plus I’m not sure my dragon, Idris, would approve.
From the way you've described Dragons, and their independence from influence, it might be good to keep Idris happy...

Not necessarily a kid's author, Mr. Radcliffe has still created a story in Guardian which is safe for younger readers. It does have thrills, exciting magic and will captivate youthful readers with its wonders. I'm very happy to have found it, and equally pleased to share this discovery with you. I thank Michael for dropping by, and invite you wander in his world for yourself. Just watch out for the shadows there. They are nastier than any you have yet known.