A little while ago, a fine gentleman by the name of Michael K. Eidson was kind enough to host Lauren and I on his blog. She and I both talked about ourselves and writing, I talked about the interplay for me between writing and gaming, and she talked about world creation.
Reading through his blog, I was excited to find that Mike is a fellow author, and asked if he would be willing to come onto my site as well. So, this week we have him for a guest interview, and later on he will give us his insights on a form of fiction that has likely touched most of us in some fashion or another: multi-path fiction. So, without further ado, please welcome Mr. Michael K. Eidson.
Coyote Kishpaugh: What kinds of books do you read? Do you have any favourites?
Michael K. Eidson: First, thank you, Coyote, for this opportunity to talk with you and introduce myself to your readers. It’s an honor and a privilege to virtually be here.
I like stories that employ the fantastic, the surreal and the inexplicable, yet maintain an internal logic that aids in the suspension of disbelief. If a story does not stay consistent with itself, I quickly lose interest.
My favorite genre is fantasy, though I enjoy all categories of speculative fiction. When I was younger, I read a lot of westerns, mysteries and thrillers, until I discovered Michael Moorcock, Roger Zelazny, Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance, L. Sprague de Camp, Philip José Farmer, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Speculative fiction became my drug of choice. I consumed it with the same passion I had for chocolate ice cream. I recall in my high school year book a picture of me sitting and reading at my desk while all this activity was going on around me, to which I was blissfully oblivious. The book I was reading at that moment, the title of which was clearly visible in the photo, was “Ben.” Classic.
Favorite authors from my early reading days include Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Jonathan Swift, Aesop, Jacob Grimm, Lester Dent, Zane Grey, and Mark Twain, to name a few. I loved the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown series. Harold and the Purple Crayon has a special place in my heart.
More recent authors that I enjoy, listed in no particular order, are Kelly Armstrong, Kyra Dune, Sarah Fine, James Schannep, Monique Martin, Christina Lea, Katie Cross, Ken St. Andre, Michael Stackpole, Rebecca Hamilton, Alan Tucker, Marie Browne, Victoria Grefer, Kim Harrison, and Kim Vandervort. I now can also add Lauren Scharhag and Coyote Kishpaugh to that list. If you don’t recognize some of these names, it’s understandable, since a good many of these are indie authors, worthy of a following greater than they currently have.
Some of the authors listed above write or have written multi-path fiction, which I have enjoyed since discovering the Tunnels and Trolls solitaires published by Flying Buffalo starting back in the 70s. I don’t think there’s enough multi-path fiction being published today, though the genre has made gains recently. My guest post delves deeper into the topic.
CK: If you weren’t writing books, what would you be doing with that time and energy instead? Why?
MKE: I love creating digital art with 3D rendering software, and have posted several of my images on the web, some for sale and some not. I’ve created card games, board games, role playing game rules and supplements, and a few musical compositions. A miniscule portion of all I’ve done has been made available to the public. The rest of it waits patiently for me to polish it. Most of it will never be polished. That’s okay. It has all been experience leading me up to where I am now.
I enjoy creating puzzles and mazes. I independently came up with rules for the puzzle format we all know now as Sudoku. I still wonder if the Japanese hacked my computer and found the program I was working on to generate those puzzles. I never finished the program, because once the first Sudoku puzzle was published, I felt that my soul had been sucked from my body. It was a devastating experience that affected my passion for every other creative project I was working on at the time. I eventually managed to put it behind me and move on. But it is tough to have your creative work stolen. Not that I can prove it was stolen in this case, but the feeling of being violated was the same for me. There have been other cases where people have blatantly claimed ownership of my work, and it stinks every time. You fight it the best you can. Some people say it’s a compliment to have your work stolen, but whether there’s any truth in that doesn’t matter. When it happens, it stings you at the core of your being. If I were a person with a mind to fight against the injustices of the world, my energy would go towards helping creative people protect their work from slime balls, and making sure the slime balls got the justice they deserved.
CK: What first inspired your writing of Love After Death? How did the project begin?
MKE: To clarify matters, Love After Death is the second working title for my debut fantasy novel, and may well change again before the book is published.
Back in the 80s, I wrote the outlines for a series of six novels set in a world I created called Pharas. I’ve matured enough as a writer to know that those six novels as outlined aren’t publishable. But many of the story ideas were sound. So I set about creating a new story, with the core of the six novels as back story.
To get the novel started, I used a tool on my web site to generate some random events and characters. From that I used what made sense in crafting the new story and culled the rest. I worked out a plot from what I’d generated. At each step, I made sure what I did would fit the Pharas setting.
CK: Tell us a little about the story.
MKE: Two thousand years before the start of our tale, a crime was committed against the god known as The Torturer. The other gods didn’t particularly like The Torturer, and through their intervention, the criminals went unpunished at the time. The Torturer was promised that in two thousand years, he could punish the reincarnations of the criminals, whoever those unlucky souls might be.
The Torturer had difficulty in handling this state of affairs at the time and fell from the sky for all to see. Even those who worship him now refer to him as The Insane One. Only when the criminals are punished will the title of Torturer return to him.
The math here is not difficult. The time has come for The Insane One to deliver punishment and regain his former title.
Alonso is the depressed, suicidal reincarnation of one of the criminals. Alonso doesn’t remember any of his previous lives, much less a life lived by one of his previous incarnations twenty centuries ago.
Hella is a shadow elven priestess of The Torturer. Hella intends to be the one who delivers punishment to Alonso. Like Alonso, she doesn’t have memories of previous lives going back two thousand years. She does have a direct connection to her god, and he remembers the event like it was yesterday. But in Pharas, even a god doesn’t necessarily know all the facts.
There’s a whole host of other characters with their own motives and memories. Some of them love Alonso. Some of them hate him. Some of them don’t care about him much one way or the other. Some of them realize what Hella intends, and of those, some want to help her and some want to hinder. One of those wanting to hinder is another reincarnation of one of the criminals, whose role in the crime was hidden from The Torturer. I won’t reveal here which character this is.
That’s the core of the story. There are a number of significant, interweaving side plots. For example, Hella, a shadow elf, hopes to banish humans from Pharas, with a few remaining to serve as slaves and familiars. She plans to incorporate magic leading to this outcome into the ritual used to punish Alonso.
There are a number of relationship triangles at center stage. One of these triangles involves Alonso, Hella, and Locket, a young human woman who has a strong bond with Hella at the outset, but finds herself intrigued by Alonso, whom she may have to save if she’s to live with herself.
CK: What are some of the recurring themes of your work, and why are they important to you?
MKE: When I read, I like themes that encourage me to look at the world in a different way than the usual. When I write, I want to offer a similar experience to my readers.
One major recurring theme in Love After Death is that perception and knowledge do not equate to reality. Seeing is believing, but either perception or belief can be wrong.
The driving theme in Love After Death is that relationships evolve over time. Relationships are important to everyone and always worth exploring. They are the basis of civilized society, and the foundations on which many great fictional works are built. There are so many kinds of relationships, and in Love After Death, I explore as many as the story will support, including some that would never occur in our own world.
CK: Recently, you made the decision to rewrite Love After Death, changing it from a single-viewpoint narrative to one with three viewpoints. What went into that decision, and what are the advantages you’re getting from the change? Is the story itself undergoing any changes as a result?
MKE: Some time ago I’d reached the point where I thought the book was ready for publication. I’d written the story solely from Alonso’s viewpoint, because he’s central to the main plotline. I sent copies of the story to beta readers.
The feedback I received made me aware that Alonso was not the kind of character that readers wanted to spend the whole novel with. A depressed and suicidal man doesn’t make for the best company. Readers won’t stick around if they don’t like their host for the journey. Moreover, there’s a lot that happens in the story completely outside of Alonso’s purview and thus hadn’t been revealed to the reader. The feedback from the beta readers helped me to see that including some of this missing material would enhance the reader’s experience.
So I wrote a multitude of scenes for several characters. Then I looked back through the scenes and chose as viewpoint characters the ones I thought could best hold the reader’s attention while still making it possible for me to tell the whole story. I have a personal leaning towards including Locket, and I don’t think my reasons are self-indulgent. One of my beta readers had mentioned feeling an emotional connection to Ngozi, Alonso’s shadow elf wife, and there was a lot of story not told about her that I felt the beta reader would have liked to know, so I selected Ngozi as another viewpoint character. Yet another beta reader had mentioned enjoying reading about the teen girl runaway named Gabriel, and wishing to know more about her. So those three characters now serve as my primary viewpoints. I’ve decided to add a few “intermission” chapters from the viewpoints of important secondary characters, based on a reassessment of beta reader feedback and other feedback I’ve received. I may include an “intermission” chapter from Alonso’s viewpoint, near the end of the book, when there is no one else around to have a viewpoint.
One big advantage I’ve seen from this change is the increase in tension it brings to the story when multiple people share their sometimes conflicting views. When the story came only from Alonso’s perspective, it was one-sided and matter-of-fact. It’s like the difference between showing and telling. With Alonso at the helm, the story was told. With Locket, Gabriel, and Ngozi all in the fore, the story is experienced. Moreover, these three ladies are more entertaining than Alonso, especially the teenage runaway, Gabriel, who remembers her previous life as one of Hella’s jackal familiars, during which time she had some bad experiences involving Alonso in his younger days.
As of yet, the plot of the story hasn’t been impacted by the change in viewpoint. I might make some changes to the ending, but haven’t yet decided on that, as I still have a good deal more to write.
The change to multiple viewpoints has impacted the recurring themes of the story. The ones I mentioned above were perhaps not so strong in the former version of the story. Other themes that were evident before aren’t so much so now.
Another impact on the story may be the size of the finished novel. Telling more of the story requires more words. I’ve entertained the idea of splitting the novel in two, but I rather like having each book be a complete, standalone story. Some readers are quite vocal about not liking to read books that are left hanging at the end, even when the follow-up book has been published. On the other hand, some people don’t like committing to reading a lengthy debut novel. I’ll figure it out when I have to.
CK: If Love After Death were to become a movie or cable series, who would you like to see play what characters, and why?
MKE: After I’d written a few drafts of my story, I started thinking about how I’d cast the characters if I were making a movie instead of writing a novel. I then found images of these actors and pasted them into the data sheets I have for the characters in Scrivener, my preferred story editing software. I pictured my choices acting out scenes in the story, envisioned how they would behave towards each other or when alone. I based my cast choices on both physicality and personality as much as I could.
In the part of Alonso is Orlando Bloom, who can play the part of the lanky down-on-his-luck fellow needed through most of the story, but turn hero at the end. A thirty-ish Orlando Bloom would be ideal. Alonso in the story is thirty-two.
In the role of Ngozi, the shadow elf woman married to Alonso, is a thirty-ish Rosario Dawson. Rosario can play a strong woman, which is Ngozi through and through. The actress would need to dye her skin gray and wear her hair curly and violet. As long as that wasn’t a problem, Rosario would be perfect.
For Gabriel, I have an image of Willow Shields in the character data sheet. That choice was made a couple of years ago, when Willow was thirteen, which is the age of Gabriel in the story. If I were choosing now, I’d go with an actress who is thirteen now, maybe Morgana Davies. Whoever’s picked, she has a big role to play, so she better have the acting chops. Her role is more than that of a teen girl, but to say more is to give away too much.
As Locket, a sexy gal just turning twenty, with an identical twin sister, I’ve used a photo of Kate Upton in the character data sheet. Kate has the right look, but I haven’t seen her act, so I don’t know how well she would play the part. If Jessica Alba were twenty, she’d be my pick, because I absolutely loved her in Dark Angel. Whoever’s chosen for the role would have to play the parts of Locket and her twin, Kala, in multiple forms, not only physical people, but telepathic projections and ethereal dream walkers. The actress would also need to be convincing in the part of someone riding a dragon. Twenty years old, long red hair, lean and luscious – that’s Locket, so picture who you will in the role, maybe even Scarlet Johansen, or maybe they could introduce a new sex goddess actress type? Did I mention that the person in this role would need to do a nude scene or two? But then, so would those playing Alonso, Ngozi and Hella. Hmm. What’s this story about again? I’m trying not to be too explicit with the sex scenes, which is another sticky point for some readers. But I don’t want to gloss over all the details either.
The character of Hella is a complicated one. She’s a shadow elf, but in most of the story she magically parades as a human woman of relatively short stature, known as Lady Ryley. In either human or elven form, she has the appearance of a forty-something woman, though in fact she’s over a hundred years old. Magic keeps her feeling and looking young. She’s civil with a dark side, and in the role of Lady Ryley I can’t think of anyone who’d play her better than Christina Ricci. In the parts of the story where Hella is in her natural shadow elven form, she’s taller and of darker complexion, so another actress would have to take that role, someone sexy and strong like Aisha Tyler.
Jeudio is a character who initially had the minor part of being Hella’s coach driver. He evolved into something more, and he has that odd air about him that Johnny Depp would easily bring to life.
One major character I’ve not mentioned yet is that of Aisling, a mysterious young woman whose role I don’t want to go into here. I’d love to see Lindsay Lohan play her. Aisling is confused and confusing, so Lindsay would be perfect.
CK: What advice do you have for those just starting out as writers?
MKE: To those who are just starting out, I’d say first think about your motives in becoming a writer. If you want to write a book to put a feather in your cap, then you need no advice. Write the book, get the feather, and go on with the rest of your life. But if you’re looking to be a professional writer in any capacity, the going will not be easy. Prepare yourself for failure, rejection and humiliation, counting yourself lucky if it doesn’t come your way.
As with any professional activity, you need training. You can’t expect to write publishable novels by sitting at your keyboard and typing whatever you feel like typing without some insight into what makes a story publishable. If that approach works for you, then you’re either a natural born talent or just lucky. You have my congratulations.
If you’re not a natural born talent or incredibly lucky, and want more than the proverbial feather in the cap, my advice is to either go to school and learn the trade, or read about it as much as you can from reliable sources. Read author and publisher blogs. Subscribe to one or more magazines dedicated to training authors, such as Writers Digest. I’ve been a subscriber to that magazine for ages, and I don’t foresee a time when I won’t be a subscriber. Whatever you do, you need a continuing source of current information, sound advice and encouraging words. Don’t let the writing life isolate you from the rest of the world. It’s so easily done.
The only other specific piece of advice I’ll offer is to engage beta readers before you publish. Then listen to what they say. Pay special attention to the negative feedback. If you are in this to get other people to read your books, then beta readers are how you measure the likelihood of your success before committing your words to published form. You don’t have to modify your story to please every beta reader, but you need to examine why each beta reader says what she says and make a conscious decision what if anything to do about it.
CK: Is there anything else you would like to say in closing?
MKE: Even though these days my doctor tells me to avoid it due to my problems with acid reflux, I could really go for a bowl of chocolate ice cream right now.
Thank you, Mike, the privilege is mine.
Michael is a software engineer, author, and music lover. He owns the Eposic web site, The Troll Mystic. His current creative project is his debut fantasy novel, currently untitled and slowly turning into a trilogy. He has a soft spot for female vocalists.
Please like Michael's Facebook page, and for those of you who haven't seen it yet, or who just don't want to wait until his return to my Adventures Underground, you can check out his blog, the Troll Mystic, here. Later, he'll be back to share insights into multi-path fiction. Until then, keep reading, share what you read, and leave reviews whenever you can.
And as always, any writers out there of whatever genre who would like to appear on Coyote's Adventures Underground, please feel free to contact me in the messages below, or by sending me a Facebook message here.