with M.P. Ness by Charline
Ratcliff for Tour de Blogg
thank you for being willing to share your story with us today. I’m sure your
friends, family, and fans are interested to learn some of what makes you tick. J
I see in your bio that you mention you share the same birth month/day as
Leonardo Da Vinci. You also comment that you feel you “own a share of the
creative spirit for which the renaissance master was known.” Your comments lead
me to believe that you have a certain respect/awe for the man and his
accomplishments, and if so when did that start, and why?
Michael: I’d say you’re very perceptive, Charline.
Da Vinci was the quintessential Renaissance man. He could, and did, do it all.
Few, regardless of their talents or medium, will ever be called “master.” Art
itself is a mountain, virtually impossible to scale to its pinnacle. We will
always be trying to be better at what we do, and we will never be perfect in
our endeavors. That’s part of the philosophical beauty of the arts in general.
Art is a way of life. It’s a mode of living toward continual self-improvement.
But, Da Vinci, is hailed as a master, and after study, I’m comfortable saying
that title is most likely true and fitting. Few others can say as much…
Prior to discovering our shared birthday, (now
known as the American Tax Return deadline day,) I already had aspirations of
being a Renaissance Man. I drew, I painted, and I sculpted. I wrote stories and
poetry and songs. I philosophized; I had a craftsman’s background in
construction, I enjoyed landscaping and architecture and I even played musical
instruments a bit. So naturally, when I discovered that birthday connection,
late in my tenure at the Art Institute of Seattle where I was working for a
Bachelor’s in Animation and Applied Media Arts, it did become a sort of
fixation. Da Vinci became a subject of intent study.
I felt proud to share such a celebrated artist’s
birthday, and I found it interesting that two people separated by so much time
and geography, could share such proclivity toward similar interests and
abilities. Then, (no less curiously,) my own son, M.P.N.2., was due on my
birthday as well. Unfortunately, he was induced two days early, on a Friday,
Charline: Michael, allow me to continue a moment longer
in the Da Vinci theme to ask: do you feel that your acquired knowledge about Da
Vinci helped open the “creative” side of the world for you?
Michael: Given that discovery came so late, some seven years
after I had already taught myself to draw, had been writing for as many, and
had sought schooling to further those abilities, it had less of an impact than
it might have, had I discovered it in my earlier creative years. I was
already at the point where I knew I wanted to do everything. I wanted my
creative control/director position, and I wanted to produce the stories I’d
worked on for so many years prior.
However, in terms of focusing more on finer arts
and expanding my abilities to include a wider variety of mediums and subjects
when I should have been focusing on my animation studies, it certainly did have
an impact. I began to see things differently, more mechanically, and from there
my understanding of rendering complex three-dimensional subjects on paper took
a dramatic leap. Not surprisingly, my animating skills improved as well. I
literally began to set the grading curve in my respective 2-D traditional
animation courses. Unfortunately, my desire and enthusiasm to draw frame after
frame after frame, in what equates to endless hours of work for mere minutes
and seconds of footage, took an opposite turn.
I decided then to simply write, and execute
visual art by commission, (I’m always for hire,) and to compliment my
storytelling. Art became a secondary passion. Writing remained dominant.
Many tell me that I should be composing Graphic
Novels, given the multi-threat trait. I agree; I should be. However, one key
element yet escapes me: page by page composition. It’s something I’ve always
attempted, but never quite gotten the hang of. Perhaps one day I will
commission a graphic novel artist to work with me on creating those types of
books, as I hold a healthy respect for the graphic novelists and comic book
artists/writers out there. They can do it all.
You know Michael; I was intrigued to read that you are a “sometime” musician.
Does this mean you play an instrument and/or sing? If so, what instrument? I’m
sure some of your readers/fans would also like to know if you have given up
performing completely, or is there a possibility that they might see you out on
a Karaoke night... *chuckle*
Michael: I was in boys’ choir in grade school, and I’m also told
that I have a pleasant speaking voice. However, I do not sing anymore. Except
in the car... Or sometimes randomly with my iPod when I’m really in the zone as
I work on a painting.
In truth, the “sometime musician” means I used to
play a fair amount of Bass. Unfortunately, there’s only so much time in a
day, a week, or a lifetime. Between the time demands of writing and art/art
school, I knew I had to put music aside. It was a third passion, dominated by
two bigger brothers.
Music is one of those things I can do, and I enjoy
it, but it just isn’t my passion. Nothing equates to simply disappearing for
hours into the imagination as you write a story.
Michael, you’ve shared that you’re an artist, and that you studied at the Art
Institute of Seattle. You also mentioned that while you were there, you were
inspired to write your debut novel series: E.L.F. White Leaves, the first book
of your fantasy series is now out, and I’m curious what it was about the
Seattle locale and/or experiences that brought this book series to fruition?
Michael: It was a newspaper stand, actually. On the sidewalk,
right outside the AIS campus in Belltown, Seattle was a headline that snared my
attention. Being a longtime fantasy reader, there’s no way I could have missed
“ELF burns down housing complex,” the headline
read, in big, bold, blue font.
At the time, I had no idea what ELF meant, but
it wasn’t something one would expect to see on a REAL newspaper headline. I
bought the paper, read the article and discovered ELF: the Earth Liberation
Based primarily the Pacific Northwest, the Earth
Liberation Front is a hierarchy-lacking extremist-activist organization.
They’re Eco terrorists, and not many people are familiar with such a concept. I
know I certainly wasn’t.
These activists are in favor of defending
nature, but in the long run their methods are misguided. They firebomb resource
companies and housing developments and the like. They actually do more harm
However, to me it was a story. My initial question that struck me upon
reading that headline was: “What if it WAS real elves that had burned down that
housing complex? How would it play out? Why would they do such a thing? And how
had no one ever seen one before?”
After stewing on the idea for a while, I then
attended a PNWA, (Pacific Northwest Writers Association,) conference in Seattle
where I pitched the raw, unwritten idea to urban fantasy author, Richelle Mead,
during an urban fantasy seminar she was co-teaching. Frankly, I owe Richelle a
huge thank you. I didn’t even write urban fantasy. No one in the entire seminar
wanted to speak up about their stories when she and her co-host opened the
floor to pitches; so I stepped up with nothing to lose and spilled my raw but
coveted concept. She said something to the effect of: “If you can write it,
you’ve probably got a sale on your hands there.” That was all the encouragement
I needed. I at last decided to write it.
So thanks, Richelle!
I sat down, and the story literally almost wrote
itself. I just did the pen-work. The rough draft, (135k words/29 chapters,)
took me exactly 30 days. It just poured out, and just in time for the original
version to take a place in my schooling, which at the time was the only way I
was getting any writing done at all. Art school is no joke. The workload is
staggering. So, I completed it for a screenwriting class under tutelage of
Seattle’s well known, John Keister, (the 206 & Almost Live - sketch comedy
shows,) who was teaching at the AIS at the time. He liked it enough that I
decided I’d make it a book one day.
One day has come and gone. And so it is.
Charline: Michael, as a writer, why did
you choose the fantasy genre?
Michael: There are several reasons,
really. The funny reason; I’m an escapist writer, so for me its therapy.
I love to daydream, and fantasy reading/writing
affords me that. I love immersing myself in other worlds. I think it keeps the
mind sharp and helps with problem solving/thinking outside the box.
Mostly, though, I write fantasy because I’ve always
been a fantasy guy. I initially started reading for personal enjoyment as a
child, but only about animals. I had checked out every non-fiction book there
was on dinosaurs, sharks, snakes and all the creepy crawly things little boys
find fascinating, and I knew all the facts about all those animals. I was a
sponge. But then that blasted, (but holy,) Book Mobile came to school early in
the 4th grade. The first fantasy I ever read was one I bought there with my own
The cover art sucked me in. It was Terry Brooks’ “The
Talismans of Shannara” which is book four in his second Shannara series. I
didn’t know that, and didn’t care. The image struck me enough that I had to
know who the one armed man was and why he battled against an excellent rendering
of the grim reaper who rode a unique, particularly vicious, looking lizard/cat
sort of steed.
I razed that book to the ground, I read it so
fast. I got to the scene that the cover art depicted, and I never looked back.
The following year, I’d read every single Shannara book there was.
Why Fantasy? It captures me. It really does.
However, I have many stories I will prepare
throughout the years to come, and not all are fantasy.
I also plan to write my mother’s memoir/biography
with her. She’s led a…particularly brave life, and despite lifelong hardship,
her kindness, generosity, patience, and understanding still know no equal in my
I did note Michael, that “White Leaves” has a rather stunning cover. It
definitely attracts the appropriate attention for the fantasy genre. As an artist,
did you design/draw the cover yourself, or did you come up with the concept and
allow someone else to put your graphic vision to paper?
Michael: See, now you’ve totally touched on a topic I can
really blab about for far too long. I’ll try to restrain myself. Firstly, I’m
proud of it. I did indeed do the artwork, and I’m glad you like it. So far the
response to the imagery as a cover has been wholly positive.
The cover started as a quick scene-sketch intended
to help my creative juices by giving me a visual rendering of the awful
“Powers” called: Traemin and Gane. I’d tinkered with various concepts for the
cover art: a simple silhouette of a modified Seattle skyline to include a
gargantuan tree, a simple, stylized, bold, flourish-styled tree in silver on
black, as well as a few other ideas. However, after having created the current
cover image, I couldn’t imagine anything else ever being the cover.
Personally, I am a fan of “scene” covers. I
think this style provides a better idea of the story, especially since you’re
looking right into one of the moments in the book as soon as you see the cover.
Artistically, I like to render photorealism with
pencil/pen, but when it comes to digital and book covers especially, I really
enjoy that roughly hewn, concept-art, sketch-quality painting that you see in
the White Leaves cover. It just seems to feel more alive than a picture perfect
rendering. So, I will most likely continue that trend; at least for the E.L.F.
series, as I also like uniformity in series covers.
Image style and selection really get quite
interesting when you take a look at the studies of why, and how, that loose
style actually affects the imagination of a viewer/reader, as opposed to using
photographs, like a romance novel might. Covers are all about establishing a
connection with the internal individual. The more realistic something is, the
more external, objective, or “out there” the subject is to your viewer. The
more simplistic, vague, or stylized something is…the more a viewer can see of
themselves within it, or of it within themselves. This is why Comics and Anime
and Manga-novels and Cartoons are all so effective. Simplification and
The best example is a smiley face, because you
cannot NOT see a smile when you see two dots and a curved line put together.
There are many who may even have a difficult time NOT seeing a face in their
car’s headlights, bumper or grill arrangement. Take the Volkswagen Beetle. Did
you ever see such a smiley, happy, friendly looking car? No. Why is that? The
designers in old Germany wanted to build an affordable vehicle that every
commoner could own and love. Their vision worked flawlessly.
This concept also works with sports cars. How
many of them just look plain old beastly, aggressive, and mean? There’s a
reason for that beyond simply being aerodynamic. It’s a style choice, made
specifically to appeal to a type of person who has a set standard of
This study was something I learned during my AIS
tenure. You can find more about it in a brilliant book, “Understanding Comics,”
by graphic novelist/comic artist and writer, Scott McCloud. It’s a comic book
about making comic books. Some of his concepts are quite enlightening, and I
highly recommend it, even if you aren’t an artist, but especially if you’re
thinking about creating graphic novels.
But I digress…to continue with the matter of
As an artist, I like to show works in progress.
I’m not shy about it, and I don’t secret away my upcoming book covers to do
special-event cover-reveals. I like others to be part of that creative process.
And in my opinion, if they get glimpses as I go, they can get more excited
about it. I like to think others become more connected that way. As again, it’s
all about establishing that connection. And that doesn’t only apply to the
visual. We writers pour a great deal of ourselves into our words, and I like to
know that others know I’m in total creative control, and that you readers are
getting the purest look at me and my vision of my tales as you possibly can.
Case and point, let’s connect a moment. I’m
actually in the process of creating the cover art for “Blighted Leaves;” book
two of E.L.F., lately. I take a certain measure of delight in revealing
the fact that the sequel and its cover-art were both inspired by…chocolate chip
cookies. Yes, chocolate chip cookies.
But that’s crazy talk! You might exclaim. The
title is “Blighted Leaves,” and it’s darker than the first book by far. How
could it be inspired by something so sweet and decadent and frankly harmless as
freshly under-baked chocolate chip cookies?
To which I can say…because, E.L.F. was
originally just going to be a stand-alone story. I wrote it in school. It had a
single direction and a single dimension at first. However, one day I saw an
image on a plate of chocolate smears left behind by fresh chocolate chip
cookies. I sketched it because I though it looked a little like a monster, and
I thought I could improve upon that happy chaotic accidental image. Sometime
later, that sketch triggered a connection with White Leaves, and E.L.F.
literally came to life as a whole world of stories.
The point, all triggered by your
connection/reaction to the original cover art, Charline, is this… Everything
about my books is done by me. As I said before, I like that unrestricted
creative control. I believe an artist‘s vision is best when pure. So, with the
exception of my wonderful Editor, Maryanne Torgerson, (who may actually be
available for hire to other Indie authors,) the book’s entire coming to
fruition has been done by my own two hands.
Charline: In closing Michael, what would you say is next for
you once the E.L.F. series is finished? Another fantasy book/series? Or
focusing on turning your books into blockbuster movies?
Michael: Well, Hollywood might be a little way off yet. One
needs some renown and credibility, not to mention inclusion in the
Screenwriter’s Guild, before seriously tackling that mountain. So, for now, I
simply plan to write books. But I would very much like to see my stories on
screen. That’s why I write them. I see them. And that’s how I write them.
They’re literally written to be seen. Whether
that comes by imagination or by film is merely a matter of timing, and perhaps
a little luck.
I’m a very visual and linear writer. The visual
aspect definitely comes from the artist part of me, and the linear is exciting
because I never know how a story is going to unfold. I get to discover it just
as much as a reader might. I think it creates a visceral experience in the
reading, much like how the rough-hewn imagery of the cover creates a more
At any rate, E.L.F. wasn’t the first story I
ever wanted to tell, and it won’t be the last. It’s just the first one to make
it to the chopping block.
I have a much…larger higher-fantasy saga to tell
under the working title of “The Winds of Arillus,” the first book of which will
be called “Pheinixfall” for reasons which will eventually become apparent. But
that won’t be until after I release a few of the E.L.F. tales. And there are a
number of unique standalones, or potential other series that I’d like to delve
into. For now though, it’s straight-ahead, full-steam with E.L.F.
Aside from that I’m also in cahoots with a small
contingency of other Indie authors, creating a network around our personas
rather than our writing genres. The publishing industry as a whole is like a
newborn all over again. The environment we are coming up in is radical and
fresh, and authors all over the world have to rethink outside the box, just how
best to appeal to the right readers to make their careers. So, we considered
this and decided to approach it from a new perspective.
We decided to appeal to people and readers with
similar interests as our own, as opposed to people who specifically read
fantasy, or thrillers, or sci-fi-noir-gothic-grind-house-multi-genre-fusions.
Since our interests are part of ourselves, and thus come out in our stories, we
believe a fantasy story can appeal to someone who happens to like the same
music as the author, even if that reader wasn’t into fantasy prior to finding
our work. We’d like to think this is a radical and fresh way to approach our
own collective marketing. It may well be crazy enough to change the dynamic;
given time…if you consider that it’s the ones who are crazy enough to think
they can change the world that actually end up doing so.
Our take…? The authoring world doesn’t have
much, if any, in the form of rock stars. As unconventional individuals with
interests in some really cool things out there in the variety of mediums that
entertainment takes, we collectively agree and suppose a new breed of young
author is rising, and fast.
We aren’t your stereotypical authors. We’re
people with interests just like the readers out there. We’re into the edgier
side of life, and that comes out in our work. So we’re building a network
geared toward the hard and fast, full-throttle, and unique type of stories we
tell in a variety of genre fictions.
I’d like to mention and suggest readers also
take a gander my fellows in this venture. Thriller Bestseller, Charlie Flowers,
whose “Hard Kill” has rocketed to chart topping, and Fantasy Author, J.L.
Hickey whose “Secret Seekers Society” series is climbing the sales charts
quickly, are on board -just to name a few. But there are more, many more, and I
think there’s a large a number of us out there worthy organizing our efforts.
Naturally, we’ll have more information on that when it gets a little more
Pardon the name, but we’re a little unapologetic
about our personas, and we’ll be operating under #BadassAuthors soon.
So, on that final note, I would also encourage
other Indie authors who might be a little bit badass in their personal life and
interest, and who aren’t afraid to show it, to get hold of me. We have the
perfect place for you! Thank you, so much, Charline!
Link up with Michael
Createspace | Amazon
& Noble | Kindle
Reader | Diesel
| iTunes | GoodReads |
Social Media Links:
Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads | Deviantart.com | Add White
Leaves to your shelf!