An Interview with Mike Reeves-McMillan

InterviewsIt has been a long time since I've done an interview, and I've really missed it. I'm very pleased to have had a chance to ask Mike Reeves-McMillan a few questions about his current book and his thoughts about the future of publication.

I met Mike on Google+. We have a lot of things in common, ranging from an enjoyment of fantasy and science fiction, as well as a real enjoyment of good-quality steampunk.

Thanks, Mike, for taking the time to answer these questions for us!

I don't know about you, but I have a hard time describing myself. I'll put you out of your misery quickly this time — Describe yourself in five words or less.

Tall. Thin. Nerdy. Literate.

To continue this little exercise, explain why you picked those five words.

I'm six feet tall and weigh 130 pounds.

I was a nerd back in the 80s, before nerds ruled the world, and I wear the title proudly. My main characters are all nerds of one kind or another, too, or at least socially awkward. None of them have chiselled chins or ride round on big horses with swords. (I think those guys are out to solve the wrong problem.) And my female leads are nerd girls, too, because nerd girls are terrific.

As for literate, I've always read fast, and although I mostly read F&SF now I have read a lot more widely than that in the past. I recommend it.

Being a writer involves more than just a good vocabulary and having a story to tell. Can you tell us a bit about how you feel about the art of word choice? Why do you pick the words you do? Do you spend a lot of time choosing words as you write, or is it something that comes naturally for you?

It's something I'm always aware of. I like to give different characters slightly different voices, and I do that by word choice and sentence structure. For example, Victory, the female lead in my latest book, has a habit of speaking without using contractions, which gives her a grand and serious manner. When she drops that habit, you know she's talking to a friend.

My degree's in English language, which means I'm more alert to such things than nearly anyone, so I probably spend time on it that nobody else will ever notice. It also means, though, that I don't have to work as hard at it.

What do you do when your editor hates the words you love? How do you deal with this in your editorial process?

I generally take criticism pretty well, so if my editor, who I'm paying to have a different opinion from mine, suggests something, I mostly listen.

Sometimes, of course, she's just wrong.

You recently released a new book. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Realmgolds is about a bookish young man named Determined who's been reluctantly thrust into a position of responsibility with very little power attached. An old acquaintance of his is trying to usurp him, and because of their history he'd rather put in the work to become the leader his people need than let the other guy take over. Fortunately, he has advice and support from his ally Victory, who's clever enough for any three people, but they run into problems because an ancient magical treaty prevents her from sending him troops.

For more information on Mike's books, you can visit his website.

This is the official blurb for his new book, Realmgolds:

The Human Purity movement is growing in power and influence in Denning, attacking dwarf businesses and caravans and inciting popular rebellion, with the passive or active support of many of the ruling Golds.

Opposing them almost alone is the Realmgold, a young man named Determined. His problem is that, even though the Realmgold is meant to be in charge, nobody is paying much attention to him.

Victory, who rules neighbouring Koskant, would love to support Determined, but an ancient magical treaty between their realms means she can’t send in her troops, her skyboats or her pressure guns. What she can do, though, is share a new magical communications technology – and her elite corps of Gryphon Clerks…

Moving on: You have an intriguing background anchored in traditional publication. Please, tell us a bit about what you've done in the past with traditional publishers.

I did an English degree because it came easily, but then I had to make a living, and I didn't want to teach. That left publishing.

I did a lot of freelance work-for-hire for Random House and a couple of local presses, writing, editing and compiling a wide range of nonfiction, from art to wine to travel to famous people, and then I got a full-time editorial assistant job with what at the time was the most successful of those local presses. It was bought by Hodders, who were doing so badly in New Zealand that they either had to pull out or buy someone. They then applied the management approach that was sending them out of business in the first place, and all the good, loyal staff were either laid off or left.

So I became a tech writer instead, and learned so much that I ended up in IT for the next 17 years.

With your traditional background in mind, why did you choose to self-publish?

I know how large publishing works, and it doesn't work very well. It's slow, it's inefficient, it's behind the times, and it's geared to giving authors the sticky end of the stick. There are still things it does do well, like distribution, but even those things, it could do much better.

As someone who understands what's involved in publishing more than most people do, I thought I could do as good a job, or better, myself. I'd self-published three books before this one: a novel that's hard to categorise, which publishers don't like, a novella, which publishers don't like (plus it was very oddly structured), and a nonfiction book and CD with a limited market. I did consider sending this one to a small house that would be more agile and author-centred than a large one, but then the whole Ridan thing happened and I decided that self-publishing was the option that risked least. If my book doesn't do well, I only have myself to blame.

Do you regret this decision for any reason?

No, I don't.

We all know the publishing world is changing — and changing fast. What are your thoughts on what you think the future of publishing will be like?

Oh, who knows? The two things we know are that it will be different and there will be more options.

I would like to see some kind of improvement in quality in self-published books, but I think that will happen naturally. At the moment there are a huge number of first books out there, first books that in many cases are not ready for their close-up. When more of the authors who are serious about craft and improving their writing ability start hitting their fifth and sixth books, then we'll see something.

Hindsight is our best type of vision. What mistakes have you made as a self-publisher?

I didn't join the ebook revolution as soon as it started, and I didn't keep writing.

What have you gotten right?

I've written more than one book. I've started a series. I've hired a cover designer and a development editor. I've connected with other writers on Google+. And I'm working to improve my storytelling.

If you could change one thing about how you launched your writing career, what would you change and why?

I might write a more accessible first novel, perhaps?

I always ask my victims one silly question at the end of an interview. Yours is sillier than most, but hey, you're a creative type. I'm sure you can come up with something… interesting.

You are locked in an elevator with a scaged skunk, a screwdriver, some string, and a t-rex. What do you do?

That's either a very large elevator or a very small T-Rex. If it's the Dinosaur Comics one, I engage in banter while getting on the emergency phone. If it's the more common will-try-to-eat-me sort, I pick up the skunk cage and point the business end of the skunk towards the dinosaur, while pulling my sweater over my nose. Tying its mouth shut with the string (they're like crocs, right?) or stabbing it in the eye with the screwdriver are plans C and D.

I think this answer demonstrates just why authors are dangerous people: You have creative solutions for interesting problems, and a plan b, c, and d.

Once again, thank you so much for answering these questions Mike, and revealing just a tiny facet of the publishing world and your experiences as an author!

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1 comment
Mike Reeves-McMillan says April 19, 2013

Thanks for the interview, Rebecca, I really enjoyed the questions.

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