It is sometimes said that every person has at least one book in them. Then there are those who have boatloads of books in them, TV shows, and a keen business sense to make it all work.
MCM is one such person. He’s the author of the fast-paced thriller The Vector (read my review here), runs 1889 Labs Ltd, a “wholly-owned subsidiary of [his] brain”, and is a veritable trailblazer when it comes to self-publishing.
Most importantly, MCM is good fun. Coffee ready? Good. Here we go!
AMH: It seems you have your fingers in many pies. What are your current writing projects, and which is your favourite?
MCM: I have way too many fingers and WAY too many pies. I just wrapped up my crowdsourced novel Fission Chips a week ago, which was great fun. I’m currently trying to polish the artwork for my picture books Xander and the Wind and Cookies for Christmas, as well as my 2009 recap volume (basically a collection of short stories).
Next week, I’m trying an experiment called 1D3D, where I try and write a first draft of a novel in 3 days, with a new chapter online every hour. And I’m very close to executing a super-secret project that will easily become my favourite project of all time. I can’t wait to plot out what I’ll do for 2010!
AMH: You’ve avoided the professional publishing route and chosen to go DIY. Why did you make this choice, and would you recommend it to aspiring authors?
MCM: Not to sound snarky, but the traditional publishing industry is broken. In my other job as a web developer, when you’re faced with something that’s insanely complex and very broken, a lot of times you opt to re-build it from scratch. That’s what I’m trying to do… I know most of my experiments aren’t going to work, but I figure if I try enough variations on the theme, I should be able to figure out a decent business model. It’ll just take some time.
Now as for aspiring authors… that’s a tough question. I think a good test is to ask yourself “Can I take my best story, right now, just as it is, and show it to the world… or does that scare me into a coma?” If you’re too scared to contemplate it, you should go the traditional route. It’s tough, but supportive. Anyone else should look at the logistics of self-publishing and really consider what they want out of life.
AMH: I think one reason authors prefer to go through major publishing houses is it gives them validation that they are ‘real’ authors. When did you first consider yourself an author?
MCM: The first time I thought I’d hit a milestone was with The Pig and the Box a few years ago, after waking up to an inbox filled with happy emails. Amateur or not, I’d done something right, and that continues to be one of the highlights of my career. For the sake of efficiency, I refer to myself as a “professional screenwriter” in certain circles, but honestly, I feel like I’m still muddling my way through it.
On the other hand, I haven’t felt a strong need for validation since the Pig book came out… the approval of a single editor isn’t magically more valuable than the support of hundreds (or hundreds of thousands) of random strangers on the web. If an editor likes what I do, I’m glad — or sometimes excited, depending on the editor — but not bow-down-in-reverence thankful.
AMH: On to your writing itself. You write a bit of everything, from kid books like The Pig and the Box, to adult fiction. What genre are you most comfortable writing?
MCM: I really enjoy writing picture books (the simplicity of the structure really makes you obsess about each word) but I’d have to say I’m most comfortable without boundaries, in adult fiction.
Right now I’ve got The Vector, which is a darker thriller-type book, and Fission Chips, which is a comedy/mystery… My next story Typhoon is more of an action sci-fi novel, and I really want to do A Quiet Life, which is a romantic comedy. I guess I just go wherever the story brings me, and the more grown-up the audience is, the more room I have to play.
AMH: Now, be honest: do you have any odd writing quirks?
MCM: The biggest self-inflicted nuisance for me is my subconscious desire to legitimize my distractibility by integrating random ideas into my writing as I go. Put another way: if, while procrastinating on Twitter for the fifth time in an hour, I see someone mention “angry penguins”, I feel obligated to somehow work angry penguins into whatever I’m working on, as if to atone for my sins. I really wish I’d stop doing it.
Beyond that, I’m a fairly boring person… I just sit at my laptop, blast whatever song goes with the book I’m writing, and charge on through until the end. I guess I save my quirk for the characters. Or is that “dysfunction”…?
AMH: What’s the most bizarre or disturbing thing you’ve ever written, and do you regret writing it?
MCM: A lot of The Vector was disturbing for me, because I’m insanely squeamish. It took all my energy to do some of those scenes, because I’m the kind of person that gets freaked out when blood is drawn.
Beyond that, my most bizarre thing has got to be The Yellow Towel, wherein witch lick feet. That one gives me nightmares. I don’t regret writing it, though, because it kinda puts a marker in my mind, showing me “this is how far you can go before you start to freak out.” I may cross the line some day, but probably not very soon!
AMH: Ha! I’m proud The Yellow Towel makes the list. Speaking of, where does your inspiration come from? Do you have a writing mentor or role model?
MCM: Coming from the TV-writing world, my inspiration tends to come from an order sheet. Tell me what I have to write about, and that’s what I’ll do. If there isn’t a specific request, I’ll try and make one up, but I almost prefer the challenge of something totally unexpected (as in The Yellow Towel). I don’t have a mentor for book-writing, but for writing in general, I often pester Vito Viscomi and Mark Leiren-Young (two genius writers from RollBots) for advice. They are my Yodas.
The biggest danger for me is that my mind is like a sugar-addled chameleon… if I sit down and read a spy thriller, I start to write in that tone; if I read historical fiction, everyone starts say “for certes”; if I read Douglas Adams, I get extra silly. That’s why I have to restrict my reading while I’m mid-project, because I can go wildly off-topic very easily. It’s never a pretty sight.
AMH: Last question: you use your initials as your brand. My psychic senses tell me your last name is Milligan; is there any chance you’ll tell us what the MC stands for?
MCM: Ha! Yes, the M stands for Michael, which is what a lot of people call me (that, and “hey bozo”). The C shall remain a mystery… not because it’s anything too extravagant, but because I like a little mystery in my life. :)
AMH: Awesome! Thanks. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
MCM: Only that I’d love it if you stopped by during my big adventure next week, and poke and prod me as I try and pull together a passable story under pressure. A big component will be having everyone antagonize me as I go, so the more voices, the better it’ll be!
Curious? Good. I dare you to send MCM the most bizarre writing challenge you can think of.
Café Wednesday returns next week, with the author of an addictive and sexy serial.