Guest Author: C.M. Michaels

My guest today is fantasy/urban fantasy author C.M. Michaels, creator of the Sisters in Blood Series. We will be on an author panel together late this month at Anne Rice’s Undead Con, on October 31st in New Orleans. I look forward to meeting him!

Please join me in welcoming C.M. to the Guest Author Program!

If you are interested in participating in the program, you can submit here.

C.M. Michaels

10721105_792686417439893_1182780432_n1. Tell us your name, and a link to where we can find you (blog, Facebook, etc)

Thank you so much for hosting me! I write under the pseudonym of CM Michaels, which was derived from my given name, Chad Michael Mcpherson. Like most people, I suppose, I thought my birth name was rather yawn inspiring and was looking for something a bit catchier. Oddly enough, I now sign my pen name far better than I do my actual signature 🙂

All of my links are below:

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/UFAuthorCMMichaels
Twitter – https://twitter.com/UFAuthor
Website – http://cmmichaels.com/
Freya’s Bower – http://www.freyasbower.com/
Amazon Author page – https://www.amazon.com/author/cmmichaels

2. How many books have you written? This can include both published and unpublished works. Describe each of them in 1-2 sentences apiece (if published, feel free to include the links as well).

Dangerous Waters, the first book in the Sister’s in Blood series, is my first published novel. The second book in the series, Omnipotent Blood, will be out early next year. I also have a fantasy romance that I am about halfway through writing called Kerrigan’s Race. The synopsis for Dangerous Waters is below. You can access all of the links for purchase, read three free excerpts and watch the live-action trailer here: http://www.cmmichaels.com/index.php/sisters-in-blood-series/dangerous-waters/

For Emily Waters, a nature-loving, small-town girl with an overprotective father, heading off to Boston University to study conservation biology is a dream come true—until a chance encounter catapults her into a mythical world she’d do anything to escape.

The latest victim in a rash of abductions near campus, Emily is brutally attacked before being rescued by a powerful new friend. She survives the ordeal, only to find herself held captive and presented with an impossible choice. While preparing for the unimaginable life she must now embrace clues soon emerge that Emily may not be entirely human, and her physical transformation awakens goddess-like powers that her new family cannot begin to explain. Dealing with her human first love, the not-so-platonic relationship with her coven “sister,” and her new vampire sort-of-boyfriend further complicates matters, not to mention being secretly hunted by the psychopaths who attacked her. And as the only known offspring of a once all-powerful race, the climactic battle is only the beginning of her journey.

 

3. Tell me a little bit about your current WIP.

Kerrigan’s Race is a fantasy romance set in an alternate dimension water world featuring mermaid-like creatures and griffins. I am still wrapping up the first draft but here is the working synopsis:

For Stanford team captain and Olympic hopeful Kerrigan Everett, times couldn’t be better. After a lifetime of hard work, she’s the odds on favorite to take home the gold in Rio in the 100M freestyle. Her MMA champion, heartthrob of a fiancé is as tender outside the ring as he is deadly inside the cage, and she couldn’t ask for a more supportive, loving family. But when she pushes for the wall in the Olympic trail finals she finds herself transported to an aquatic foreign world.

Pulchra, the last of the dominant species’ fertile women and the kings own daughter, was slain in a raid by native beasts while trying to give birth to her and Aristos’s first child. Ten years have passed, and the Syreni have grown desperate. A controversial decision is made to reopen one of the long destroyed portals and kidnap human females, altering them genetically to be able to live in an aquatic environment and bear their young.

Ever the determined fighter, Kerrigan sets to work on plans to free her fellow swimmers immediately, forging an alliance of sorts with Aristos, the fish tailed, Greek god of a male who abducted them. But neither of them counted on Neptune and Poseidon selecting Kerrigan as the Syreni’s next queen.  Decorated by the gods upon her choosing, she must come to terms with her transformation and accept that Teresolee is now home.

Slowly her hostility and resentment ebbs, and she starts to sympathize with the plight of her captors as a race. But can she truly accept such a radically different life? Not being human anymore? Can she ever forgive Aristos for abducting her—stealing her away from her friends, family and fiancé—and willingly take him as her mate? Is Aristos even capable of caring for her after tragically losing his bonded soul mate and their child? The fate of Teresolee now rests in their hands.

 

4. What does writing preparation look like for you? Do you do full outlines and character profiles, or do you just start with a general idea and write?

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.

5. Editing is a challenge for many writers. Give us some of your tips for editing efficiently and well.

Let me say up front that I would include myself in that category. Changes I make that seem brilliant one day I often second guess the next. That being said, my most important tip would be to get input along the way from beta readers (especially those who read a lot of books in your genre). It’s much easier to make major storyline changes before the entire draft is written, and input on dialogue, narrative voice, syntax and character development received for one chapter can be leveraged as you work on future chapters. When the initial draft is finally pulled together, the long and tedious revision process begins. At a minimum, I’d recommend two complete rounds of revisions: One focused on word repetition, action beats, speaker connotations, syntax and grammar, and another geared more toward content, flow and readability.

10474165_792686687439866_2021345612_n6. Research is another challenge writers face, but is an important part of the writing process. What are some of your research tips?

Research for Dangerous Waters was done in several phases. Before I’d written a single word I spent the first several days researching the scientific elements that were key to defining my version of vampire mythology. I had to decide up front what abilities my vampires would have, what could hurt them, how vampirism works and what its origin was in order to be able to put together my plot arc for the series and the first book. Nothing bugs me more than getting well into a book, or even two or three books into a series, only to have the author break their own defined rules in order to get out from under the box they had put themselves in. These kinds of gaffes are a result of a lack of up front planning. That does not mean that you need to do a data dump on the reader the first chapter and leave no element of your supernatural world unexplained, but there’s a difference between leaving things intentionally vague or open ended and stating a conclusive fact. If every time your vampires are exposed to sun they burst into flames, then you can’t go back on that just because your beloved female protagonist has at long last been changed and you don’t want to subject her to an eternity of darkness. By trying to provide her with a happy ending, you have undermined the credibility of your entire series.

The second phase of research was on the historical elements. Some of my vampires are very old and lived in several countries. Painting a realistic picture of each city, their clothes, and their daily activities 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.

The third phase of research was centered on modern clothing for my coven of trendy female vampires. As a male writing from a female protagonist’s POV, it was essential for me to not only describe their clothing in a manner that was easy for the reader to picture, but also ensure the observations sounded like they were coming from an 18 year old girl. I’ve always viewed a character’s gender as just another aspect of their character, just like their career, their hobbies, the city they live in and their personality. If any of these elements aren’t handled well it’s a problem. Are you describing a character who is a barista by day, is into the Goth scene or who plays the coronet?  In every case there is research to be done.

The last category of my research was on the city of Boston where the book is set. By using Google earth and other online tools I was able to describe Boston University and the city streets in detail, right down to individual buildings. Taking the time to thoroughly research Boston also allowed me to add far more vivid and descriptive detail to scenes, and made the end product come across as far more credible.

7. If you have been published (self or traditionally), what type of marketing did you find worked the best for you? What was the least helpful?

Out of all the marketing I have done, I have found Facebook ads to be the most effective. I keep a set of several ads running constantly targeted toward my key demographic. These ads become even more effective as more and more readers comment on them, as they end up containing dozens and dozens of testimonials that sway readers even more than your original ad. Another tool I have found effective is multi-author promotional events through Facebook, where authors interact with readers and give away prizes. I do at least one of these a month. Goodreads ads are also a part of my ongoing marketing campaign. They don’t reach as many people as Facebook but people that go on Goodreads are going there to learn about new books and are less likely to view ads as a nuisance. On the least helpful side, I paid to have my trailer play in select movies theaters the entire first month after Dangerous Waters was released. While it was a blast to see scenes from the book come to life on the big screen, in the end it was not worth the exorbitant cost. I have also paid to be featured in magazines within my genre and have made a few radio appearances, neither of which seemed to have much impact on sales.

 

8. What genre do you write in? What are some of the challenges to writing this particular genre well?

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.

 

9. What advice would you give to a writer who is starting out?

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.

Once you’ve honed your manuscript, it’s time to craft the all important query letter, where you get to boil your entire novel down into two paragraphs. No pressure, you just need to make your cherished creation stand out from the tens of thousands of other unsolicited queries that are flooding your chosen agents slush piles. Speaking of choosing agents, there are great online tools like querytracker.net and Agentquery.com that can help you search for agents to query and track your submissions. Spend the time to visit each of their sites and follow their submission guidelines. Customizing your query with information found on their site, addressing it to the agent most suited to your genre by name and complying with their guidelines is critical for making it past the initial pre-screen.

Two things to keep in mind on this step:

  • Have patience. It generally takes between 4-6 weeks to get a reply (except for the lovely “Not right for us at this time” canned response rejections, where you didn’t make it past the initial screening). You will be sending out queries for several months or even years, and you will get TONS of rejections / no responses. Keep pushing forward.
  • Don’t query your target 100 agents all at once with the same query letter. Send out 5-10 and gauge what kind of response you receive. Any nibbles? Did you get all canned rejections back? You may want to tweak your query letter a bit before sending out more. Once you get a version that is getting a decent hit rate then you can start increasing the volume, but remember to customize each and every one and follow the agencies guidelines. I can’t stress that enough.

 

10. What are your writing, editing, marketing, and research goals for 2014?

My primary goal is to have Omnipotent Blood in my editor’s hands by mid-November so it can be published in January. Once that is finished, I will be turning my attention to the cover and getting arc copies out to review sites. If I have any spare time, I’d like to make some headway on Kerrigan’s Race.

 

11. Pretend I am from a publishing house and you are looking for me to take on one of your books. Pitch it to me in 1-2 paragraphs.

I’d refer you to the synopsis of Dangerous Waters and Kerrigan’s Race that I shared above, although I might have to hit the emergency stop button to give you time to read them since they are a bit longer than 1-2 paragraphs 😛

12. Finally, is there anything else you would like your readers to know?

Dangerous Waters takes you inside a coven of female vampires, letting you get to know each of them intimately rather than just focusing on the protagonist and her love interests. And unlike most of the books in the vampire genre, there is no popping open a can of O- or feeding on animals. People die. The challenge I took on as an author is to make the reader fall in love with my characters in spite of what they must do to survive. There are magical elements that come into play, and events that unfold that none of the main characters can explain, which is a fresh change of pace from the “supernatural creatures educate the human protagonist” mold.

The protagonist, Emily, led a sheltered life growing up, being raised in a small, rural town with an overprotective father. She bears emotional scars from losing her mother at a young age but hides them well. She’s attending Boston University to study conservation biology, and dreams of making a difference in the fight against global warming. She was quite the tennis phenom in high school, and loves to dance, especially to up tempo techno music. Emily is extremely open-minded, and displays an almost detached objectivity in her thinking. She’s the type of person who wouldn’t blame you for keying her car if she discovered that your god-awful, two timing ex drove the same model and that you’d keyed the wrong car by mistake. She gives her heart freely, is selfless to a fault, and would do anything for those that she loves.

At its heart Dangerous Waters is a story of self discovery, overcoming challenges, and embracing the fact that life can take us in totally unexpected directions. We all have hidden abilities inside of us that will never surface if we are too afraid to explore and try new things.

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