Author Spotlight – Michael Alan Peck

Welcome to Lavender Lass Books, Michael. Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview!

I tell tales big and small. Life’s magical, but it isn’t always enough for a good story. So I make up the rest.

To me, it’s not real until I’ve put it into story form, which means I repeat myself a lot. In fact, the phrase that passes my lips most often is, “I may have told you this before, but …”

Called “an author to watch” by Publishers Weekly, I’ve made my living writing about TV, its celebrities, and its past. (I used to pen a column called “Ask the Televisionary” for TV I’ve also put food on the table reviewing restaurants, writing about travel, and doing SEO and content strategy.

Only the writing counts in the end.

I have a godawful memory, so I focus on the written word. I like to think that over time, I’ve gotten better at it–the writing, not the remembering. I forget important dates. I’m pretty good with movie lines. But after several years, I tend to tweak them. I prefer my versions over the real ones.

Funny goes a long way with me. Probably further than it should.

I grew up outside Philadelphia and have lived in New York, L.A., and San Francisco. My current home base is Chicago.

At holiday time, the missus and I terrorize the world via The Little Drummer Boy Challenge. Please join us.

“[A]n author to watch.” — Publishers Weekly

Winner: Illinois Library Association’s Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Project

“Paul Reid died in the snow at seventeen. The day of his death, he told a lie—and for the rest of his life, he wondered if that was what killed him.”

And so begins the battle for the afterlife, known as The Commons. It’s been taken over by a corporate raider who uses the energy of its souls to maintain his brutal control. The result is an imaginary landscape of a broken America—stuck in time and overrun by the heroes, monsters, dreams, and nightmares of the imprisoned dead.

Three people board a bus to nowhere: a New York street kid, an Iraq War veteran, and her five-year-old special-needs son. After a horrific accident, they are the last, best hope for The Commons to free itself. Along for the ride are a shotgun-toting goth girl, a six-foot-six mummy, a mute Shaolin monk with anger-management issues, and the only guide left to lead them.

Three Journeys: separate but joined. One mission: to save forever.

But first they have to save themselves.

Peck weaves a concept of the afterlife that’s equal parts action and allegory into this intense debut novel…That success, plus scenes of intense action and fantastical creativity, make Peck an author to watch.” — Publishers Weekly’s BookLife

“[A] brilliant piece of fiction…that is destined to blow up.” — Bronsen Earl, Amazon reviewer

“[U]niquely crafted…simply a marvelously well-written make-believe story…” — Grady Harp, Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer

“[A] near perfect blend of the strange and unexpected.” — Ray Nicholson, Amazon Top 1000 reviewer

I’m a huge fan of the genre and Mr. Peck manages to bring something fresh and engrossing to the table.” — violet13

“Books with this mix of metaphysics, fantasy and magical realism are becoming more prevalent…but few of these books are as well executed as this one.” — Tahlia Newland, Awesome Indies Reviewer

And now to the interview:

1.  What do you want to share with us about this story?  What really stands out about it and made you want to write it?

The world of The Commons is what you get when somebody else executes your idea before you do. I love the idea of imaginary beings having the same agency and rights as the living people who created them (see Frankenstein, Blade Runner, Pygmalion, Pinocchio, “Supertoys Last All Summer Long,” etc.). So when I was living in L.A. and trying to break into screenwriting, I sketched out a screenplay idea that took place on a computer network, where so-called “real” people were no more real than the imaginary creatures and characters they shared the space with. They didn’t even know they were living on a network.

Living on a network without being aware of it. Great idea, right? The people who made The Matrix thought so, too.

So once that came out, I had to retool. And I thought, well, what happens to our dreams and imaginings after we die? Do they die, too? If so, what if something broke the system, and they didn’t?

Thus, The Commons was born. And I was off and running. I wrote that screenplay, and my then-agent got me a number of meetings because of it. I even optioned it to a friend, but it never went anywhere.

As it turns out, that failure-to-launch was the best thing that could have happened because after I’d moved to Chicago, my wife challenged me to turn the idea into a novel. Which I was able to do because I’d never sold the rights to anyone. So I expanded the initial story and gave characters who’d been minor players in the script major roles in the book. And, as is often the case, those former minor characters are among my favorites to write.

Never have I been given so much by those who told me “no.”

2.  Why do you write in this genre?  What makes this genre particularly appealing to you?

The funny thing about this question is that I never chose a genre. I just started writing and then had to figure out what genre to call it. I initially said it was contemporary fantasy, but several reviews called it metaphysical fantasy or metaphysical fiction. I liked that better, and who am I to argue anyway? Metaphysical fantasy it is!

It appeals to me because it gives me all the room I need to create. My stories are a bit weird. Characters who initially appear to be silly are filled with pathos, and vice versa. I like the idea of something that comes onto the scene as an odd trifle and ends up resonating emotionally with the reader. I love the surprise of that. And the genre grants me the freedom to do it.

3.  What made you decide to become an author?  Can you tell us a little about that journey?

I’ve been a storyteller all my life. It’s not something I consciously chose; but it is something I’ve embraced, which is why I always did better in English than math in school. When I was in third grade, I penned a long narrative that was a crowning achievement in copyright infringement. It was called “Superman vs. the Spider,” and it involved the Man of Steel trying to apprehend a wayward arachnid named, as I spelled it, Sabwob Fair.

Now, anyone who grew up watching syndicated cartoons will remember Klondike Kat, whose arch-enemy was a French-Canadian mouse named Savoir-Faire. I stole (and misspelled) the name, along with his catch phrase: “Savoir-Faire is everywhere!”

My teacher, despite the blatant creative theft, loved it. In fact, even after I’d moved on to fourth grade, she continued to assign me short stories to write to encourage me to keep creating.

In one way or another, I continued telling stories as I grew up. I got into trade journalism and then Web writing and marketing, using my writing skills to earn a living. On the side, I cranked out spec scripts and eventually dragged my wife to Los Angeles, where after more than five years, I reached an agreement with Hollywood: they didn’t want me, and I didn’t want them.

After I moved to Chicago, my wife and I were talking over dinner and wine, and, as I said, she challenged me to take my screenplay and turn it into a novel. After I had a few chapters, I signed up for a novel-writing workshop at a great place in Chicago called StoryStudio, and the reaction I got to the chapters I turned in let me know I wasn’t crazy for trying to do this.

After I published the first book, it won an Illinois state libraries contest called the Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Project. So again, I felt like I had at least a little business continuing to crank out word counts.

And here we are.

4.  Why did you choose to self-publish?  Are there advantages to self-publishing?  What about the challenges?

Traditional vs. indie is an argument that has been going on for years and continues to this day, so I won’t try to weigh in on what others should do—especially when people such as Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have brought their considerable industry knowledge to bear on that topic many times over. So anyone still wondering what to do should just go read what they have to say on the matter. (You can start with Smith’s “Killing the Sacred Cows” writings.)

For myself, it comes down to two things: intellectual property and agency. I want to retain all of the rights to my own creations and license them out as I see fit. Signing a publishing contract would take away my ability to exploit many of my own rights, and I don’t see how that would be worth it. (Of course, it’s worth pointing out that, as was the case with their Hollywood cousins, no publishing houses are beating down my door to have a discussion, so it’s been a very easy decision to stick to.) Also, I want the last say on my stories, my characters, my book design—everything. I’m the one pouring hours and hours into this work, so I want the responsibility to fall on me. If it resonates with an audience and succeeds, wonderful. And if it doesn’t, I can live with that as long as the work is a result of my own decisions. I don’t want to do uninspiring work just because someone else gave me money and told me to. I already have a day job for that.

5.  Where do you get ideas for your stories?  Do they come to you over time, or do you suddenly think of an idea and realize it would make a great story?

That’s part of the beauty of writing a series. I already have a world, a situation, and a whole host of characters to fit within it. Plus, my world is endlessly flexible. Anything can happen. So I’m able to keep an idea file in Evernote (my software of choice). Whenever I come up with something, into the file it goes. So when it comes time to sit down and write, I’m never staring at a truly blank page. I already have a tank filled with ideas to choose from.

6.  Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?

I have no plans to write in any other genre, no. The one I write in is so strange and flexible that I’m fairly sure I can fit whatever story I like into it.

7.  What do you look for in a story?  Especially in your genre?  (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, research, etc.?)

I look for all of those pieces, working together, so that it resonates with me. I want to feel something. If I don’t, the story doesn’t work for me.

8.  What is one thing you wish you’d known when you first started writing?

It’s not going to be easy. It’s not supposed to be, and it’ll almost never feel like it is, Some authors say it is for them, but it won’t be for you. You’re not going to nail down a magic formula that makes it work the same way, over and over. I think it was Stephen King who said he has to learn how to write a book every time he does it. So far, in my experience, that’s absolutely the case. You feel your way along as you go, even if you’re working from an outline. Every time.

9.  Are you working on a new book?  Can you share any details?

I’m working on a short story to use as a reader magnet, which is a reward for signing up for my mailing list. After that, I’ll dive into the final books of the initial Commons series. I’m not sure how many that will be, but if it follows the same pattern as the last two, it’ll be two more, with at least one of them being hefty enough to serve as a self-defense device when you’re not reading it. That will leave me with an initial quintet.

From there, I think I’ll write mainly one-offs or smaller mini-series that work within the same world, combining existing characters with new ones.

10.  Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish?

Find good sources of information and read them regularly to keep up with what’s going on. As I say, I like Kristine Kathryn Rusch in particular, and the Sell More Books Show podcast is a good way to keep up with the latest developments. Mark Leslie Lefebvre is a great resource, and you can find a lot of solid information and support in the Wide for the Win group on Facebook.

The trick, I find, is figuring out who to listen to. There are a good many opposing viewpoints out there, so you have to determine what works for you.

You can find Michael Alan Peck’s book at Amazon and many other retailers!

Thank you so much for sharing all this with us, Michael. You can find out more about Michael Alan Peck’s books at the links below:

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