March 5, 2013

Romantic Fantasy: The Red Queen @themikewrites #RLFblog

Michael J. McDonald, welcome to Romance Lives Forever. Let's talk about your book, The Red Queen.
Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Publisher: Books to Go Now
Cover artist: Jenna White
Length: 31 pages
Heat rating: Medium
Tagline: "Long live the Queen!"
Blurb: The Red Queen is a political thriller set in a world of medieval fantasy, against a backdrop of political and sexual corruption. The king of Liberi passes away, leaving his crown to his ambitious son, while his wayward daughter struggles to deal with her apathy and indulgence. Her old friend, the Cardinal, reminds the Princess of her sense of duty to her people, who are caught in the cross-fire of her brother's machinations.
Buy links:
What are your main characters' names, ages, and occupations?
Princess Amelia, in her early 20s, is the younger sister of the heir to the throne and, with no responsibilities and a liberal attitude to love, the embarrassing open-secret of the royal family.
Private Leroy, 19, is the fresh-faced batman for the esteemed, pompous General Stagg, and in his own shy way intrigues the Princess far more than his blustering superior.


How did you get your start in the industry?
I have been writing for almost my entire life. I recall on my very first day of school, before I could even write letters by hand, our teacher gave us simple words printed on card to slot together to make sentences. I soon ran out and asked for more to complete my epic tale. Creative writing became my favorite activity and by the time I was in high school I was writing lengthy fan fictions and otherwise steeping myself in the process of storytelling. When I entered the University of Glasgow, I started taking things a bit more seriously, and managed to win a couple of awards for essay writing while also getting a few credits for short stories under my belt.
What is the most important thing you do for your career now, as compared to when you first started writing?
It is still the same really write. To keep the momentum going and keep building a profile, I need to have material out there and I always need to find ways to reach new readers.
What websites do you visit daily?
I keep an eye on various blogs through Google Reader, particularly K.M. Weiland's Wordplay and the Smashwords blog. I also check out political sites like and The Young Turks, because I'm cynical and like to be reminded why. I pop up on Wattpad now and then, too, but not every day.
If you could change something about your first book, what would it be?
At the last moment, I actually changed something quite radically. It is a generation-spanning fantasy where a teenage girl inherits a tremendous power from her mother, who survived a cataclysmic explosion that destroyed her homeland. Essentially it is a tale of a nuclear-powered superhero, in a steam-punk setting where everyone is trapped underground due to the fallout from a magical war. I wrote it in perfect chronological order, starting with the meeting of the main characters' parents and ending with the main characters' conflict with her nemesis seventeen years later. Reading through in yet another final edit, I realized that there was a problem: the main character is not introduced until about a third of the way through the book. Her mother's story is compelling in itself, but she disappears from the main narrative as her daughter comes to prominence, so I worried that a break in character might be jarring for the reader. Splitting the novel into two had been my very first intention during outlining but it never sat well with me to put off the real story I wanted to tell for a whole other book. So I jumbled up the order, threading the two characters' stories together, and found I had a much stronger piece. The two perspectives provide a counterpoint to one another, and moving back and forth in time allowed for a subtler hand to be used in foreshadowing since I did not have to worry about readers remembering little details a hundred pages later.
If I could change anything else now that Underworld is available, I might still have split it up after all. I am proud of how the novel turned out, but I have trouble leaving characters alone, and now that it's done I still find myself imagining new ways to bolster the story and add even more depth to the opening act. It could have stood alone as a novel, but I am glad I got out the real story I intended to tell.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
The power. Not that I am an egomaniac or anything, honest, but it is a taste of being a god. The fate of your characters and their world is in your hand, literally. Yet even when in complete control, some strange things can make it onto the page, and characters can come up with unbidden ideas that add an unexpected twist to a carefully crafted story. Writing down what is in one's head is still full of surprises, and that is what I love best of all. Like the reader, I'm dying to find out what happens next.
If you could choose anyone to be your mentor who would it be?
In terms of writing, my favorite author of all time is Terry Pratchett, and I adore the way his stories can be both darkly satirical and side-splitting at the same time. To be under his wing and learn how to walk that tightrope between zany humor and deep social commentary would be an honor. I am fortunate enough to have met him at a book signing for the Discworld novel Going Postal.
If you could give the younger version of yourself advice what would it be?
I would remind myself to always keep going. I have had some setbacks, not least of which is losing the capacity to hold a pen for any length of time, and have become my most crushing critic. I achieved more in my youth than a good number of aspiring writers, but I wish I had not wasted so much time lamenting what could not be helped and had channeled more energy into more output. My best advice to my younger self would have been to keep writing.
What is your work ethic when it comes to writing?
I would love to take the Douglas Adams approach and enjoy the sound of deadlines as they whoosh by, but that does not pay the bills. Still, being a creative process there are times when writing simply cannot be forced. I'm not too strict with myself; I know some people who write with their Internet cable unplugged just to stop them getting distracted by checking just one more tweet, but that sort of thing seems overkill. I just take what chances I get whenever there's time and space, I turn on my word processor, put on my headphones and see how far I get before something else gets in the way.
How do you cope with stress as an author?
Writing actually helps me cope with stress. When I am dealing with my own characters and their world and their problem, my own tends to fade into the background.
Do things your family or friends do ever end up in a book?
Never directly, though once or twice I have had friends who are certain they have spotted someone based on them. As any introvert writer I am an observer of people, and usually observe them a bit more closely than they realize, but it is all in aid of learning about how people work and what drives them so I can translate that into realistic characters who seem to move themselves through the plot.
What are some jobs you've done before (or while) you were a writer?
My day job is in Information Technology, so I generally work with computers all the time anyway, so sitting in front of a keyboard for far too long is not a stretch for me. My education was initially in archaeology, which unfortunately I could not pursue due to injury, but the skills remain valuable as a writer who must piece together the puzzle of a story and bring skeletal characters from my head to life on the page.
Which of your books would you recommend to someone who doesn't normally read your genre, and why?
I would recommend Good Enough (available on Smashwords and Amazon), a short fantasy set in the same universe as Underworld. It's a tragic romance between a countess accused of treason and her confessor, a young monk who is torn between temptation, compassion and duty. It gets a little erotic but by no means lewd, and there is enough political intrigue and medieval fantasy trappings to make it a gentle introduction to romantic fantasy. If you were interested in giving romance a shot and want to raise your heart-rate while reading a substantive fantasy-world plot, I believe Good Enough would be a great start.
What kind of books do you read when taking a break from your own writing?
I read all sorts of things biographies, horror, contemporary fiction, fantasy/science fiction and far too many books on writing. As I mentioned earlier, I am a huge fan of the Discworld series, and enjoy other work in a similar vein. Surprisingly, for a fantasy writer I am not so fond of traditional high fantasy. I loved The Hobbit, but I found Lord of the Rings a chore, and avoid things like the Wheel of Time series and Dungeons and Dragons novels. Too many silly names and mountains of needless description seem to get in the way. It is a bit difficult to become intimate with characters when there's fifty of them, all with three apostrophes in their name. It might be why I cannot help but smile at Pratchett's lampooning of this tradition with giving his main characters bizarre names like 'Moist'.
What do you think is the future of traditional publishing?
Like Dibbler of Ankh-Morpork, I fear that in their effort to stay in the market they are in danger of cutting their own throat. While independent publishing and e-books have risen to prominence, I have seen the traditional gatekeepers merely redouble their efforts to remain an almost impenetrable fortress in the face of aspiring authors. When I can upload my story to Smashwords the day I finish it - or have a company like Books To Go Now turn it around in a month for electronic publication - and my work is in front of millions in an instant and at a very reasonable price, why would I wait six to twelve months for an agent or editor to even read the manuscript?
Traditional publishing seems to believe it is in their interest to put every hurdle they can imagine in front of an author. Many agents and publishers do not want simultaneous submissions, but they take so long to wade through the hopeful, if you play by the rules it could take a decade just to get a dozen agents to glance at your work. Then they treat customers no better, insisting on DRM and unreasonably high prices for electronic media that costs essentially nothing to distribute. Books themselves remain significantly expensive, running up to $30 for a new fiction novel, which is seriously off-putting to anyone not entirely confident they'll enjoy it. It is a system that seems designed to maintain the status quo and avoid anybody taking risks, even readers, and I worry that with infinite space on Kindles yet finite time in customers' schedules, eventually traditional publishers will find their wares just are not in demand. We already lost Borders because browsing a book store and picking something out is becoming an increasing gamble at higher and higher price points and with less innovation making it to the shelves.

Imagine you get to go on a dream vacation, but you have only one hour to pack and leave, and it starts as soon as you finish this interview. What will you take with you and where will you go?
Have laptop, will travel. I guess I'd stuff some underwear and socks and things in my bag too, and some pain pills. Beyond that, what more do I need? I would probably hop on the first plane to JFK and find myself a nice hotel room somewhere in New York City, and spend my days wandering and absorbing the atmosphere of such a lively and historic place before spending my nights writing while sitting up in bed and trying not to be distracted by HBO.
What is your favorite holiday and why?
Christmas. I'm not a Christian myself but that doesn't stop it from being a very special time of year and a great reason to get together with family and share stories and food and drink with people I should not really have to find excuses to visit.
What good book have you read recently?
Good Enough
I just finished She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Not a recent book by any means, but a tremendous story of quiet triumph over enormous personal tragedy and trauma. It's an unusual one for me since I tend to feel more affinity with the hopeless than those who struggle on for decades as Delores Price does, but Lamb avoids easy answers and any sense of happily ever after. Delores might get better, to an extent, but that doesn't undo who she was and what was done to her.
Where were you at midnight, on December 31st when the new century started?
I was at a relative's house, watching fireworks exploding over the river Clyde. I think I stayed up until every time zone had hit the year 2000, and I annoyed people by pointing out that the 21st century technically did not begin until 2001.
What do you like to do when you're bored?
Play video games. I don't own a console and I am long burnt out on all the shooters that seemed so cool and exciting in my youth, though, so I tend to play a lot of indie titles and RPGs. I love any game that tells a story, especially if it has a quirky style to it. I adore the scope of something like Skyrim, where I have an entire country to wander and forge my own myths within, but that doesn't stop me enjoying something so much simpler, like Cave Story.
If your life became a movie, who would you want to play you?
Ed Westwick (Chuck Bass of Gossip Girl) strikes me as the right choice. Aside from me being not nearly as tall and handsome, his time on Gossip Girl showed how well he can portray a haunted, pained character. And, being from the UK, I imagine he would have little issue with my faint trace of a Scottish accent.
If you were a color, what color would you be?
Black. Call me Emo, morose, macabre, whatever, but black is starkly simple while unnervingly mysteriously, so that has always been my color. Even if my art teacher swore it's not a color, but a shade.
What do you wish I had asked you? Please ask and answer it now.
I wish you had asked where I get my ideas; that seems to be the stock question writers face. I often come across people who are enthused about writing but lack the energy or commitment to follow through, and they seem so surprised that I am able to uncover not just one but many stories. To them, it's as if I can summon my muse at the drop of a hat, and that can seem intimidating to a wannabe who has trouble fleshing out a single skeleton of a story. As boring as the question may seem to writers who have heard it over and over, I think it is valuable to encourage would-be storytellers that coming up with ideas is both harder than it seems and easier than you might think. Every author has their own way to drink from the well of imagination, but for myself, I tend to use music. If I close my eyes and let myself be carried away by a track or an album, my mind can dump me on some very strange shores and I often find the basics of an idea bob along into my imagination, like a message in a bottle.
Please underline which statement is more like you:
"I am a vacation spa because I am laid back and relaxed."
"I am a ten-countries in ten-days tour vacation, because I do things as fast as possible."

Please complete the sentences

I love pizza with friends.
I'm always ready for a drink.
When I'm alone, I procrastinate. It's only when people are around that I seem to find the will to write.
You'd never be able to tell, but I'm a grumpy misanthrope.
If I had a halo it would be sitting in a pawn shop window, traded for a spiffy cane.
If I could, I would. At least once.
I can never hear myself think because my parakeets won't shut up.

Previous Books

Good Enough
The Red Queen
Fall to Climb
And others...
Michael J McDonald

Books Coming Soon

Portman Island Counter Terrorism
Tramp The Dirt
The Hellfire Club

Find Me Here

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