A Few Quick Questions With…Michael R. Underwood

The first time I’d heard of Michael R. Underwood was on an episode of The Once and Future Podcast back in August of ’14, when he was promoting his first novel, Geekomancy, and I had to get my hands on it as quickly as I could. Reading it confirmed what I’d thought listening to the interview — this is my kind of writer: the interests, the sense of humor, the kind of story he was telling — if we weren’t members of the same Geek Taxonomic Rank, we were close enough. Every book/story since then has just increased that impression (even the ones that didn’t bowl me over). Naturally, I jumped at the chance to help promote his Kickstarter for Season 1 of Genrenauts with this little Q&A.

Man, I so wanted to go full fan-boy on him asking all sorts of detailed questions about his various books — especially this series — enough to make him shout, “Alpha 3-9!” while running away. Instead, I stuck with keeping it short and sweet, so he can focus on the Kickstarter, his job, his books, etc. (and because I like not having Restraining Orders taken out on me).

Michael R. UnderwoodMichael R. Underwood is the author of seven books: Geekomancy, Celebromancy, Attack the Geek, Shield and Crocus, The Younger Gods, and Genrenauts, a series in novellas (The Shootout Solution and The Absconded Ambassador). By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his wife and their ever-growing library. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he geeks out on comics and games and makes pizzas from scratch. He is also a co-host on the Hugo Award-Finalist The Skiffy and Fanty Show and Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers, and Fans.

Between your job, family, social life, social media, writing, media-ingestion (which based on your twitter feed and books is pretty impressive) how do you do it? Have you figured out how to survive without sleep?
I am actually a huge fan of sleep – I need at least 6 to 7 ½ hours a night to stay in peak form. I fit everything in because so many of the things I do fold into two or more others. Watching TV informs my fiction, it gives me stuff to blog about, or to discuss on the podcasts I do. Same with reading and video games. My wife is also a geek, so watching TV/movies, talking about media, and sitting around reading all still counts as time spent together.

My day job and my writing career support one another, since they’re both in the same field. I’m very lucky that my boss at Angry Robot, Marc Gascoigne, doesn’t expect me to put in long hours the way that some publishing professionals have to (I work 40 hours a week on the job, not 50-70 that I know some folks do). If I were an editor, I think it’d be much harder to keep everything balanced.

Even with all of that double-counting, I have still really streamlined my life. I used to have several more hobbies, but I haven’t been making time for tango or historical martial arts in the last few years. I’d like to get back into the martial arts, especially since I have a series in development which draws on that world.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
The movie I most wish I’d written and/or been involved in the creation of is Mad Max: Fury Road. Watching Fury Road for the first time was something akin to a conversion experience for me. The way that action drove (heh) the narrative, how action foregrounded and revealed character, and the way that the film told a very specific story about combating toxic masculinity and rape culture through the lens of an extended chase scene – all of those elements totally blew me away, and have served as a call to action, a challenge to do better in my own writing. It’s a phenomenal example that a story can be exciting, commercial, and have something to say in addition to “whee!”
In between installments of the Ree Reyes series, you had a couple of other works published. Are you exclusively a Genrenauts author for the rest of this season/through season 5, or do you have another iron or two in the fire?
Since the Genrenauts Kickstarter is going very well so far, things are looking good for that series, with the Season One omnibus scheduled for this fall. I’d then start working on Season Two at the start of 2017, looking to pick the series back up in the Spring/Summer.

But I definitely have some other projects in development. There’s the fencing-oriented series I alluded to above, and I’m also eager to get back to the first draft of a space opera that I’ve been working on (it’s so much fun, folks. Some of the most fun I’ve had writing fiction).

My goal is to keep Genrenauts going for all five planned seasons, and to fit other projects in between those seasons, including at least one novel a year if possible. I’d also love to do some writing in the comics medium, but right now my wish-list of projects far outstrips the time I have available to write them, so I have to prioritize based on what projects have the best prospects in terms of finding a good home or method of getting to readers.

Up to this point you’ve been writing Urban Fantasy and SF, is that home for you, or have you thought about trying something else — or are the various worlds in Genrenauts scratching your itch to dabble in something else? Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy, but could never write?
My tastes range across the genres of speculative fiction, so I’m definitely planning on continuing to stretch my skills and write in a variety of modes and sub-genres. Genrenauts really helps with some of that, though there are some places where I have a more specific idea in a sub-genre for something that wouldn’t be a good fit for Genrenauts. Those ideas get their own chair in the Green Room of my writing brain. It’s very crowded in there. Don’t let the Story Idea Fire Marshal know.

I’d really like to write some romantic SF/F, where the romance plot is as developed as the SF/F story. The Ree Reyes series has some romantic elements, but I’ve been reading more Romance novels/novellas and am continually impressed at how Romance writers draw out such intensity of emotion and characterization. I’m trying to learn from those writers and see where I can use those skills to strengthen the relationship plots in my own stories.

I’m not likely to ever write a Literary Fiction work – one without SF/F elements and focusing on the super-deep language, slow-burn, internal exploration that is expected in that mode. It’s just not how I approach storytelling.

The whole point of this was to help promote the Kickstarter campaign, so we’d better talk about it a little — How’s the Kickstarter going (especially compared to what you’d expected/hoped)? What do you want people to know about the campaign that you haven’t already said?
The campaign is going really well! We hit 70% a week from the initial launch (almost to the hour), and it’s looking very likely that we will not only fund, but we might hit several of the stretch goals to have Mary Robinette Kowal return to perform audiobook editions of further episodes in the series. I’m really excited by the outpouring of support I’ve seen for the series, from Kickstarter backers to people offering to help me spread the word to people eager to review the new episodes, and so on.

When I was first developing the idea for Genrenauts, I started to hope that this might become a Big Thing for me, a series that could become a major portion of my creative output over several years, something that would help me develop a community of readers and storytellers, and to contribute to the discussions about why we tell stories and what they can do socially and personally. Every new backer for the Kickstarter, makes that dream ever more a reality, and I am deeply grateful to everyone who is helping make it happen.

Thanks so much for your time. I hope the Kickstarter campaign succeeds, and look forward to reading the rest of the Season.

And, folks, even if you’re not that interested in helping Underwood out, go help out so we can get more of these audiobooks for my sake, okay?

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