Interview with CM Michaels, author of “Omnipotent Blood”

Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis?

Not necessarily, but in order to avoid extensive editing, authors need to know and adhere to the basic grammatical rules at a minimum. I recommend having a beta reader on your team who is strong in this area to help catch anything you miss while writing the initial draft and doing your own first pass of edits.

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I loved the first book, but was really disappointed by where the series went from there. There are much more interesting things she could have done with the remaining books. It almost seemed like she hadn’t thought about the book turning into a series when Hunger Games was written and struggled to think of a way to extend the storyline. I felt the same way about the Divergent series.

What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?

I enjoy writing in both the Urban Fantasy and Fantasy genres. I find Urban Fantasy writing to be a little easier. By being rooted in the “real” world, it provides the author and reader with an established foundation to tie the magical / supernatural elements into. If, on the other hand, your world is full of carnivorous jasperia vines, soul stealing mist clouds and all manner of unique creatures, you need to get the reader’s head around these elements in addition to introducing the main plot and your central characters. On the other hand, Fantasy writing provides a blank canvas for the author which is incredibly endearing to me. I hold Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight) in high regard as a Fantasy Author and have learned a great deal from her writing.

When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, mainly due to the outlet it provides for my overactive imagination. The first book I shared with anyone outside of friends and family was a children’s novella written when I was 14 called The Bat Boy, which I still have tucked away in my closet. I was one of five lucky students selected to read our short stories to local grade school children. Of course at the time I felt anything but lucky—I was so nervous reading in front of forty or so people that I could barely keep track of what page I was on. I decided to pursue a career as a professional writer almost four years ago, while writing the first draft of what would ultimately become Dangerous Waters. The more people I shared sample chapters with, the more encouraged I became that I was crafting a novel with broad appeal, but I knew it would never be as good as it could and needed to be for publication if my writing remained only a hobby.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?

I do my best to spend three hours writing each weeknight and five hours on Sundays. My schedule varies, but 20 hours a week is the minimum I shoot for. The biggest challenge for me is balancing social media and marketing activities with time spent writing. As a business professional with a full-time day job and a husband, there are only so many free hours in a week.

Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?

Some. I definitely have a small inner circle of family and close friends that I interact with. I prefer not having tons of people around, and tend to enjoy doing most things either with just my wife or by myself.

Do you think writers have a normal life like others?

I think everyone’s life is crazy in its own way. I couldn’t imagine hanging out in dance clubs until 2 AM, but for some people that is just their typical weekend routine. The key is to do what makes you happy and surround yourself with people who can appreciate the passions you enjoy.

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

I guess I fall somewhere between the seat of your pants contingent and the micro-planners, leaning more toward the former. When I get a new idea for a series I first kick it around in my head for a while, thinking about where I’d take the story, what some interesting sub plots might be, and adding some detail to the central characters. If I find that I’m still obsessed with the idea several days later then I know there’s enough interest on my part to warrant moving forward. Ideas that make it past the daydreaming stage are captured in a catch-all word document covering everything from a skeleton plot arc, to explanations of the supernatural powers that come into play and details on the central characters. This document is continuously updated throughout the writing process, and serves as an invaluable reference as the cast grows and elements are further refined. From there it’s on to initial research, focusing on the location the book is set in and the defining characteristics of my protagonist. Is she on the swim team? Does she write poetry? Does she work as a barista? Are there pantheons or other mystical lore involved? These defining elements will be referenced throughout the book, and in order to sound at all credible I need to educate myself up front.
Once I have a good feel for the protagonist, the defining elements of the story and the high level plot arc, it’s time to start writing. I start each chapter by putting together a one page bulleted summary outlining the key events that occur, the chapter’s purpose in advancing the overall plot, and important character interactions. This is still very high level, along the lines of knowing I want to get from Detroit to Buffalo and stop at Niagara Falls along the way. I’ve found that I write far more impactful scenes if I let the story—how I get from Detroit to Buffalo—come naturally, allowing my characters to take me in totally unexpected and wonderful directions.

What is the most difficult part of the entire writing process for you? Queries, pitches, editing?

For me, while boiling your entire book down into a couple of paragraphs and somehow still making it stand out from the thousands of other submissions the agents and publishers receive can be quite daunting, the most challenging part is the editing. Changes I make that seem brilliant one day I often second guess the next, and while editing for grammar and word repetition, it’s all too easy to extract the life out of the text.

What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?

Finishing out the scene once I have it framed. I often spend as much time flushing out the chapter plot arc and initiating the scene—deciding where it’s going to be set, what’s happening at the start, how to describe the setting to paint the picture for the reader—as I do writing the rest of the chapter.

Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last?

Oh yes. Some night I sit starting at the same paragraph for three hours, continuously rewriting the same sentence or sentences over and over. Some nights I just decide my brain isn’t into it and go off to read or watch TV. Other times I’ll force myself to keep working at it, especially if I am stuck on a certain part that I want to get past.

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

Having to scale back how much reading I am able to do while I am writing a novel is actually the hardest thing for me to give up. I enjoy reading dystopian, paranormal, urban fantasy and fantasy. Some of my favorite authors are Kelley Armstrong, Peter V. Brett, Richelle Mead, Rachel Caine, Cassandra Claire, J.R. Ward and Laini Taylor. The Otherworld series (by Kelley Armstrong) and The Vampire Academy series (by Richelle Mead) are my all time favorites and have had the most influence on my writing style.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

My narrative voice. I used to rely on dialogue and physical descriptions far too much. Rather than describing what a character your protagonist encounters looks like, you need to explain how the protagonist feels about that character’s appearance. Make it personal. Does the protagonist think the girls a tramp for wearing low-rise jeans two sizes too small for her giant butt? In that one sentence, you’ve communicated so much more than if you’d just said the character was wearing low rise jeans.

Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?

A combination of both. After completing my own first pass edits I send each chapter out to my beta readers to solicit their input. When the book is finished, I do a final round of internal edits before sending it off to my publisher, who then assigns an editor for me to work with.

Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?

The fantasy romance I am working on now I started over two years ago. I had to put it on hold to write the second book in the Sisters in Blood series. I’m excited to be back working on it again.

What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title?

I think having a cover that catches your eye is vital. Before I will even bother to read the synopsis I need to have been intrigued by the cover. As for the title, I’m not that picky what a book is called when I am buying it, but trying to ensure there aren’t already ten books with the same name is important.

Have you ever designed your own book cover?

I conducted photo shoots with actors / actresses portraying a pivotal scene from the book for both Omnipotent Blood and Dangerous Waters. Doing so allows me to select people who physically resemble the characters in my books, have them pose together, and dress them however I’d like. I love the flexibility versus using stock photos. I send the pictures the professional photographer takes to the graphic artist to have them add in the graphic effects, background, etc and create the final cover art. Thankfully my publisher gives me the flexibility to be involved with the creation of the cover.

Do you attend literary lunches or events?

I attend anywhere from 5-10 author events per year, some as far away as Chicago or Michigan (I live in Louisville). Some events I do each year as they are well run and draw large crowds of readers to interact with.

How do you maintain a work / life balance?

Deciding to write a novel you intend to get published is on the same level as far as a time commitment as going back to school, working a second job, learning a foreign language or going to the gym seven days a week. And like those activities, in order to see it through to completion you need to make sacrifices and have tons of support. Some of the cuts are easy… scaling back on the TV viewing, doing a little less recreational reading. Others are far more impactful, like leaning on family members to pick up the slack on household chores and ensure no one starves to death. If you are not on a first name basis with your pizza delivery guy, you will be. Before I started writing my first novel, Dangerous Waters , I did all of the cooking, dishes, laundry and mowing for our family (along with regularly tackling items on the never ending “honey do” list, of course), while my wife handled the cleaning. Given my general adversity to cleaning, I thought I made out well in that deal. I also used to read / watch TV for 4-5 hours a night. What’s happened since launching my writing career? My better half has taken over doing all the dishes and cooks at least three times a week—pretty much any night we don’t order out. I watch 2-3 hours a week of TV at most, and have greatly curtailed my reading time as well, which I have to say has been the hardest part. The mowing has been hired out, and projects I started on the house years ago remain partly finished. Such is the life of a full-time employed writer. At the same time, it’s important to not let writing dominate your life completely. More than likely you still have a job to do that pays the bills, and spending quality time with your loved ones should always be top priority. I’m happy to say that, after twenty years of marriage, my wife and I still go out on a date each week. Regardless of what writing deadlines I face, that time is sacred. We also eat dinner together each night and look forward to cuddling up on the couch to watch our favorite shows. Your significant other will need to be your cheerleader, confidant, editor, test reader, voice of reason and drill sergeant during your writing journey. It’s easy to take them for granted if you aren’t careful. Force yourself to unplug regularly and show them how much their support means to you.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

The best advice I could give anyone thinking about writing a book is to not worry about getting published up front. Let yourself enjoy the unbound creativity that comes with crafting your very own world. Invest time up front to put together a plot arc and a rough story outline. Think about each of your main characters. What’s different about them? How do they dress, talk, act? What role do they play in the central plot arc? What challenges will they face? What are their personal shortcomings? What mistakes will they make along the way? The better you understand your characters, and the more clearly you can define your storyline, the easier the entire process will be. Above all else, commit to finishing what you start and making time to write each day.

What did you want to become when you were a kid?

I wanted to work with wildlife in some capacity. Looking back on my life, I wish I would have been more aggressive in pursuing a career as a research biologist rather than going into business, but I have carved out a successful career that has allowed me to pursue my passion of writing, so I guess I can’t really complain.

Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read?

Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard was one of the first books that I remember really enjoying. It was part of a three book series that featured a boy and his dog, which was right up my alley.

If you could date any character from any book, which would it be?

Hmm… I would have to say Rose Hathaway from the Vampire Academy series. She is stubborn and impulsive, which often gets her into hot water, but she is also incredibly brave, has unshakable morals and is fiercely loyal to her friends. And let’s not forget she’s a half-human / half-vampire trained assassin. Something tells me our dates would never be boring.

Do your novels carry a message?

I was especially thrilled to see the review I received from (a snippet below) for Omnipotent Blood, as it highlighted one of the things I attempt to do in my novels, which is to weave social issues into the storyline and use my writing to convey a message. “Michaels explores complex issues such as sexuality, faith, and sacrifice without pretense or artificiality. His characters are realistic, complete with their flaws and mistakes and genuine emotions.”

Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?

Part of Dangerous Waters is set in my hometown of Traverse City, Michigan, so elements of the story are taken from my own experiences. The protagonist’s favorite vacation spot (Yellowstone National Park) is my wife and I’s favorite, as well. We’ve been there four times over the years.

Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?

I’m currently working on a fantasy romance called Kerrigan’s race, which features an Olympic swimmer female protagonist and an alternate dimension water world full of mermaids, griffins, elves and fae. It’s the first of my four book Syreni series.

Another misconception is that all writers are independently wealthy, how true is that?

Wouldn’t that be nice! While I am fortunate to not have to rely on income from my books to put food on the table, that is due to my aforementioned day job rather than some gigantic trust fund I inherited.

Do you enjoy book signings?

I’ve learned to focus more on the organized events where readers come to a location to check out a lot of different authors at once. Doing individual book signings is great if you are a celebrity, but for most of us, when we get outside of our hometown they tend to lead to small audiences that make it hard to justify the time.

Do you reply back to your fans and admirers personally?

Always. Anyone who contacts me on my FB author page or on one of my ads will get a personal response. I feel it’s the least I can do for someone who went out of their way to reach out to me.

Have you ever marketed your own books yourself?

In today’s world that is a must, even for published authors like me. I have a vast marketing platform, and I’m constantly looking for opportunities to make it more effective.

Although all books say that all the characters in the book aren’t real or related, but are they really all fictional and made up?

I would never base an entire character on someone from my life, but elements of a character often are. That can either be by design, or more often, the similarities emerge as the character develops. These are typically things as simple as sharing a favorite movie, their taste in music, how they feel about a topic, phrases they use etc.

What is your favorite part about writing?

Being surprised by where my characters take me. Listening to impulse thoughts of what your character would do in a given moment doesn’t always pan out—and can take you off on some pretty odd tangents—but I’ve learned to let myself run with them and see if I like where I end up rather than rigidly sticking to my chapter outline.

If you’re writing about a city/country/culture you haven’t physically visited, how much research do you conduct before you start writing?

Some of the vampires in my Sister’s in Blood series are very old and lived in several countries. Painting a realistic picture of the city, their clothes, and their daily activities as you learn about their past required several days of research. Google is your friend, as is Wikipedia. It’s amazing how much information we have readily available at our fingertips if we just take the time to find it. While researching Boston, which is the setting for Dangerous Waters, I utilized Google earth and other online tools to describe Boston University and the city streets in detail, right down to individual buildings. I was also able to ensure that events that unfold, like going whale watching, were described accurately as far as where they would go, what time of year, what types of whales they would see, etc. This type of research is what makes a book credible.

What’s your favorite movie which was based on a book?

The Lord of the Rings trilogy. One of the rare times I thought the movies did justice to what were wonderful books, even if I still like the books better.

Is there a genre you absolutely despise, or are written pieces all pieces of art and demand to be respected equally?

Historical fiction is hard for me to read. Mainly because the authors tend to get so bogged down in describing the century they are supposed to be in and showing all the research they did that it reads like a Wikipedia data dump rather than a novel. I’ve read some great historical fiction, but overall it’s a genre I tend to steer away from.

What is on your “Bucket List”?

Visit Alaska, Scotland and Ireland. Go whale watching. Renew our vows in Yellowstone National Park.

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