Discovering talented writers makes truly makes me smile. Each author’s writing process, marketing strategies, and subjects vary so greatly, and yet a common goal persists: Bringing great stories to appreciative readers. Though it’s been nearly six weeks since I’ve been able to post and properly promote an author interview, today’s interview with Michael Cairns was well worth the wait!
Official Bio: Michael Cairns was born at a young age and could write even before he could play the drums, but that was long ago, in the glory days–when he actually had hair. He loves chocolate, pineapple, playing gigs and outwitting his young daughter (the scores are about level but she’s getting smarter every day). Michael is currently working hard on writing, getting enough sleep and keeping his hair. The first is going well, the other two…not so much.
1. Please provide a brief synopsis of your book.
The Spirit Room (The Assembly Trilogy, book one) is an urban fantasy/sci-fi novel with supernatural conflict on a global scale. Action, adventure, aliens, magic, mayhem & modern day super-heroes… An ancient cadre of magicians… A select team of extra-ordinary warriors… An unseen foe…
As two ancient forces battle for control, reality as we know it is being torn apart. Caught somewhere in the middle, and tasked with ridding the world of the insidious alien intelligence are The Planets. Neptune hails from Rio, the gay daughter of strict catholic parents. Mars, from Ireland, still missing the sister he lost years ago. Uri grew up on the streets of New York, and Venus… well, no one knows and she isn’t telling. Imbued with extraordinary powers, these highly trained individuals take the fight across the globe. With startling and unnerving revelations at every turn, the depth of deception is only now becoming clear…
2. Tell us a little bit about what motivates or inspires your writing.
My motivation for writing is the same as my motivation for reading, really, which is escape. I’ve never had anything particularly to escape from, but the wonders of finding new worlds, and new people has kept my nose in a book since I can remember. Writing feels very much the same, even down to discovering my characters and their worlds, as I write. I don’t plan in advance, but instead just sit down and the plot and cast are revealed to me as I go along, so it’s a similar process as reading, just a little slower (though my typing has improved over the last six months!)
I think that being able to provide that escape for other people is a wonderful thing. Knowing how much it has meant to me, throughout my life, makes it very easy to sit down and write every day, if it is something I can bring to someone else. The books I have read have shaped me as a person, much as the music I listen to has. Art, in whatever format, is in someway, always about reflecting on yourself,and your place in the world, be it consciously, or unconsciously. The genre I write in enables me to provide both escape and reflection, I hope, to people who read it.
3. It’s hard to pick just one, but what do you consider your favorite novel and why?
This one is tough, just because it is always changing. The most recent book that I loved was The Crippled God, by Steven Erikson, the last volume in his epic Malazan fantasy series. I loved it for the intricacies of the plot, the wealth of characters, all with their own motivations and foibles, and the sheer scale and scope. I feel his books, as well as read them, sucked in by the gorgeous language and description. Also, after ten pretty chunky volumes, it had the most amazing pay-off, which is still the thing that most authors seem to struggle with, a truly satisfying ending.
One of my all time faves is Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. She writes with such clarity of vision, and depth of emotion, that it is impossible not to live with the characters whilst reading one of her books. Fingersmith is simple in many ways, but the characters are entirely human, and lovable, and flawed, and for me that’s probably the toughest thing to get right. Also, the last page made me blub and smile at the same time, which sounds weird, but is a good thing, I assure you!
4. What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?
At Cairns Writes you can download a free copy of my first novella Childhood Dreams, find podcasts, free short stories, info about me, and of course, links to where you can buy my books.
On the blog page the earlier articles are focused on the craft of writing, my writing life, book reviews and the like. Pretty soon we realised that writing non-fiction wasn’t for me. I have tried, honestly, but creating content every week was a massive struggle, and cut deep into my fiction writing time. So, over the last few months, the blog has changed. It now features more short stories. I write regularly, in a variety of genres, (horror, fairy tale, speculative fiction, zombie/monkey/Saturday afternoon shopping hell cross-over)((actually, that last one isn’t quite ready yet, for some reason I can’t seem to make it work…)
I have also started posting serialised stories. So this week sees the completion of a thirteen-part story entitled ‘The Book’, based around the premise of ‘What would you do if someone gave you a book which contained the story of your life, including the bits that haven’t happened yet?’
5. Are you traditionally published or self-published?
We made the choice early on to self-publish. Inspired in part by my crippling lack of confidence, and in a slightly larger part by the wonderful advice and examples of people like Jo Penn and CJ Lyons. Put very simply, self-pub’ equals more control, more choice, a quicker route to market, and greater return on investment. Having had a good trawl through what was already out there, we knew that it was essential to do it as professionally as possible, so we have editing done by the amazing Steve Parolini, and book cover design by the scarily talented Derek Murphy. I format everything myself in Scrivener, and run it through Smashwords for wider distribution.
6. Can you offer one or two helpful tips for fellow writers when it comes to marketing and publicity?
Network, network, network. Build genuine relationships over time. Developing those relationships through mutual interests and a genuine desire to support each other, will trump any advertising and promotion, any day of the week. It also means that your promotional efforts are enjoyable, and sustainable, which for any author in this for the long haul, is essential.
7. Describe your writing background.
My formal training ended with completing AS level English a year early at school. I then wrote horrible poetry through my late teens, moderately bad poetry during my early twenties, then sat down one weekend in my 30’s and churned out the first 10,000 words of my up-coming novel, The Spirit Room. That was about two years ago, and since then I have read and digested more blogs than I ever thought existed, and practised constantly. More on that below.
8. What does your drafting and/or editing process entail?
I am pretty disciplined with my writing. (some, my wife included, might say obsessed). I write everyday, and have done since the first of January this year. As I’ve got better, so I’ve pushed the word count up. I normally manage somewhere between two to three thousand words a day. I get into school early and write, then normally fit in a bit at lunch, then get home and write some more once my daughter’s in bed. This is the best way for me, and has led to nearly four hundred thousand words so far this year. The evenings are also given over to marketing, editing, and social networking. My editing process is always evolving, but in brief:
I ‘first draft’, then put it aside for a few months. My wife reads it through and takes a first pass at editing. Then I take a second pass, usually covering the big stuff like plot, and getting the characters right. Then I send it off to my editor, who gives me a big chunk of feedback. I normally action all of it, once I’ve stopped crying, then send it off to beta readers, who give me more feedback. Cue next pass, including a pretty close proofread. Then it’s off to the official proofreader, aka my mum, before my final changes and formatting on Scrivener. Meanwhile wifey liaises with the cover artist and keeps me on track with publishing deadlines. Once all that is done, my wife and I get it out across all the sales platforms. We have two or three novels and a couple of novellas going through different stages of the process at any one time.
9. What future projects can we look forward?
The Assembly Trilogy parts two and three are due for release later this year and early next. A Game of War, parts four, five and six will also be out later this year. We will then be collecting all six parts into a print book for release either later this year or early next, but hopefully in time for Christmas.
Also in draft is my first epic fantasy, A Thousand Hours, and I’m halfway through What Forever Feels Like, my Zombie/People from another planet/Steampunk novel, which I’m quite proud to say actually features some pretty serious themes. And zombies, so, hey, where’s the bad?
10. Is there anything else you want your potential readers to know?
I love chocolate! No, really, it’s becoming a problem. Also, I love comics, and read them as voraciously as books. Anyone who considers him or herself a serious reader should check out Strangers in Paradise, Sandman, and Love and Rockets. Perfect storytelling.
You can connect with Michael and his social sites via his blog Cairns Writes where you can also download his novella Childhood Dreams (A Game of War, Part one).
Is there anything else you’d like to know about Micheal Cairns?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2013.
Thanks for your comment.
Thanks also for the post on the Sphinx. I love the idea of exploring her as a character in modern times, very cool 🙂
Sounds like an interesting writer. I liked reading about his writing, editing and publishing process. Thanks.
Thanks so much for the comment.
I’m always interested in the differing processes that writers go through, both in the writing and editing stages. Everyone seems to have a slightly different way of doing things in order to get to the same outcome!
Thanks for reading 🙂
Nice to meet you, Michael, and thank you, Jeri, for another interesting interview.
Michael, I’m encouraged to see that your husband-wife business model is working for you. My husband keeps floating the idea of me coming on board to do marketing for his photography business… does it take superhuman patience to work together?!?!
Yep, I have superhuman patience 😉
*wife swats me round head with newspaper*
So far, it’s working well. I think we’re lucky in that we have always spent lots of time together, and communicate well. It sounds a bit obvious, but as long as we can talk through the things we struggle with, it works out. The editing was the toughest thing to struggle with, just because I’m quite sensitive, and to begin with, quite unconfident about my writing.
I think the other thing worth mentioning is that it really helps for both parties to have a passion for their part of the business, so whilst my wife isn’t head over heels in love with website maintenance, she gets a real kick out of marketing and networking. Also, and this is where I’m really lucky, it is important to her that I am doing what I love!
Thanks again for the comment
I can so relate to reading a way to escape and finding new worlds, it is especially gratifying when a new book can keep engaged. The Spirit Room sounds like it would do that. 🙂
Thanks so much for your comment, I’m glad it struck a chord.
Writing the blurb for The Spirit Room was a real challenge, so I’m glad we managed to get that across 🙂
You have a problem with chocolate? Me too! Dark chocolate and I are far too intimate. I have tried many times to put some distance between us, but alas I have not been successful to date. 🙂
My trouble is that I have no intention of breaking up with, or putting any distance whatsoever between myself and chocolate!
Some things you just have to accept, like eye colour, and the presence of those annoying little crunchy bits of banana in otherwise tasty tropical fruit cereal 🙂
I love sci fi and will head over to your website to check things out. Ah networking. You know I’ve found it doesn’t matter what your work is, networking is so helpful to any marketing efforts.
Thanks for your valuable insights on writing Michael. And Jeri keep ’em coming.
Thanks so much for your comment.
Glad you’re a fellow sci fi fan, and I hope you find something of interest on the site.
I struggled with networking to begin with, particularly in my last job, as a musician, where it is equally vital. However, through the patience and persistence of my wife, I have slowly come to admit that it is the only way to market. I’m not sure I’m much better at it than I was, but at least I know how important it is!
Thanks again for your comment
By the sound of it you write like I do. I am a discovery writer pantser. Many times I can’t even write out of sequence. When I sit down to write it is to add a new section to the story from where I left off the last time. I find this enjoyable, it is like reading a book.
Thanks for your comment.
That’s it, absolutely. I like the term ‘discovery writer’, it’s not one I’ve come across, but it nails it. The magic of finding the story as you’re writing, and letting the character’s decisions guide you, is definitely a large part of the pleasure of writing.
I would still like to find a halfway house, where I can enjoy that discovery process, but with a little more idea as to where I’m going. Sometimes that happens, other times it doesn’t, but I’m not in any hurry to settle into any specific ways of doing things.
I’m another pantster who loves that initial journey of discovery. The real work seems to happen at the editing, restructuring, re-everything stage. In a way though, even the editing is enjoyable. Still undecided about the marketing aspects. Good luck with the new release. 🙂
And Jeri? I love this nifty thing you have where our most recent posts show up automatically. I wish WordPress had something similar.
Thanks for your comment, and the good luck wishes 🙂
The challenge for me with editing, and I know Jeri will look at me funny, is that I still see it as time away from writing. It is essential, and as you say, it does turn what can be fairly disparate ramblings into a coherent novel, but it still doesn’t fire me up in the same way as that initial first draft period.
Fortunately, we’ve got into the habit of working to tight deadlines, and there’s nothing like them for making you edit!
Thanks again for your comment
I agree, there’s nothing quite like the buzz you get during the discovery phase, but sometimes you can recapture that buss during the editing. For me it usually happens when I suddenly see something that should have been obvious, but wasn’t. 🙂
I’m not a sci-fi fan, unfortunately. I like thrillers. I admire your discipline to write so much every day. How do you keep the fire alive day after day? Have you ever experienced burnout?
Thanks for your comment.
I have, so far, not experienced burnout, but then I don’t find it a chore to sit down and write! As far as keeping the fire going, just thinking about writing gets me excited!
To be honest, since deciding on Jan 1st that I would write everyday, the only struggle has been finding the time to write as much as I would like. However, in terms of the discipline, I found early on that I needed to have some time set aside every day that was sacred, and couldn’t be used for anything else. As with most things, I think that building the habit makes it much easier to do.
Having said all that, I have only been keeping to my schedule since the beginning of this year, and whilst the word count keeps me motivated, I cannot say for certain that I won’t hit a wall at some point in the future!
Thanks again for your comment, and good luck with the motivation 🙂
I put off reading this post when I knew that Jeri’s guest would be a sci-fi/fantasy writer. I wanted to wait until I had a glass of wine and would be by myself (no interruptions). I’ve been using sci-fi and fantasy to escape since I was a kid and I’m always on the look out for new authors. I’m now rubbing my hand in glee and looking forward to reading the blog and the book. Thanks Jeri!
Thanks so much for your comment, what a lovely thing to read. 🙂
I’m so glad the interview has got you fired up for reading The Spirit Room, I hope it doesn’t disappoint!
I have to say that sci-fi/fantasy has never interested but this writer has gotten my interest. I am actually tired of reading the same old, same old. Michael, I admire your discipline.
Thanks for your comment, (and the lovely compliment)
I think I’ve said above that it doesn’t feel much like discipline, as I now cannot imagine life without writing!
I hope you enjoy the book, and it maybe gets you interested in checking out other sci-fi or fantasy novels. There’s so much great stuff out there, and so much variation, both in style and content, that you may well find something you enjoy.
Thanks again for your comment
I love that he said that providing an escape for other people is a wonderful thing. It truly is.
I think my son would absolutely love this book 🙂
Thanks so much for your lovely comment.
I am interested at the idea of stories being an escape. My understanding of the history of stories is that they were used to teach and pass on knowledge. In the past, perhaps more than now, we understood that by providing students with an escape and taking them somewhere new, they were more likely to remain interested and engaged in their studies!
So, when we read now, are we still learning as well as escaping? I think I mentioned that perhaps we learn about ourselves rather than things external to us… Sorry, a bit of a ramble!
Thanks again for your comment, and I hope your son enjoys it 🙂
Sounds like The Spirit Room is a very interesting novel. Will have to check it out when I get a spare moment and space on my kindle (is it on kindle?). Also sounds like an interesting author. Nice to get to know the faces behind the books we read!! thanks
Thanks for your comment, and your interest in The Spirit Room.
It is out on Kindle today!! http://amzn.to/13p0l2c
I’m glad the interview was interesting. It always feels horribly self-indulgent to talk about yourself, but Jeri’s questions were varied and let me rant about my favourite books, so that was good 🙂
Thanks again, and I hope you enjoy the book
Jeri, thanks for profiling Michael. I enjoyed the interview.
Michael, I love the cover of your new book.
And I can really relate to your comment about having more control when we self publish. After being traditionally published 3x, I opted to self publish my current title and am so glad I did. I’m really loving the whole process. And guess what? The book is all about CHOCOLATE! One of your favourite topics! Please drop in for a taste at http://chocolatour.net.
Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you like the cover. We took a long time to get this one to where we wanted it, and I’m still not 100% sure, so I’m glad you like it 🙂
It’s telling how many trad-pubbed authors are choosing to ‘cross-over’ to self-publishing. Hopefully, the industry will start to take notice and make changes.
A book all about chocolate! And not just chocolate, but the search for the best chocolate – Genius! 🙂 Best of luck.
I enjoyed Michael’s description of why he likes to read – to escape. Totally get that. And then the reality joins us again when we close the book! Great interview, Jeri – and I’m not just saying that because of the mention of chocolate… which is one of my fave things!