Interview with M.P. Ness by Charline Ratcliff for Tour de Blogg
Hi Michael, 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
Charline: So, 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, the 13th.
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.
Charline: 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.
Charline: 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 it.
“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 Front.
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 than good.
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 coin.
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 eyes.
Charline: 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 stylization…
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 pre-existing interests.
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 connection.
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 living feel.
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 developed.
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!
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