Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Interview with Michael McPherson

In my ongoing series of interviews, today I'm pleased to share my chat with Michael McPherson, author of the Sioux Rock Falls series..  Here's what's going on inside his head...

1. Tell me about your newest release.

I have two books coming out by June 1st:

A Summer of Bridges is an anthology of the Sioux Rock Falls series of short stories that first appeared in Storyteller magazine. Kenny is a teenager sent to work with his uncle's construction crew--five-hundred miles north of Toronto. Kenny's single mother is trying to keep him from hanging out for the summer with a friend that she considers a bad influence. But Kenny finds more trouble in Sioux Rock, and he's forced to make tough choices over the summer that will deeply affect other lives, as well as his own.

Vampire Road is set in a post-apocalyptic future where a disease that causes vampirism has infected over half the population of the planet. I came up with the idea after reading Salem's Lot and thinking: but what if they didn't kill the vampire and he just kept making more vampires? If I make two vampires and they make two vampires, etc, eventually humans will be forced to live in walled towns and fight off armies of vampires.

New religions evolve, as humans stressed to the breaking point fight amongst themselves despite the external threats. Thus our hero, Fitz, finds himself threatened by human enemies as well as vampires, or rippers as he calls them.

Think of the movie, Priest, just released this week, combined with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks.

2. What is the best thing about independent publishing?

Speed and control. I've been working on Vampire Road for over ten years, but when a friend sent me the link to a movie trailer for Priest two weeks ago, pointing out how similar it was to Vampire Road, I could respond quickly to take advantage of the promotional hype of the movie. I sent the manuscript to my editor (Storyteller Magazine's former editor) and called a cover artist.

If I sent Vampire Road to an agent or publisher today, they'd say it was too much like Priest and they wouldn't be able to bring it to market for two years. By then readers will have moved on from vampires, and maybe poltergeists will be back in vogue.

3. What is the worst thing about indie publishing?

Getting past the stigma of self-published. Despite the fact that there are many excellent indie-pubbed authors out there, I hear more often about the bad ones, like Howett, author of The Greek Seaman. She went ballistic on a reviewer for complaining about her poor grammar and non-existent copy editing. She dropped the f-bomb a couple of times. It went viral.

But now that mainstream authors like Barry Eisler are going indie, I think readers will begin to realize that a $2.99 e-book can be a good read. Authors like Amanda Hocking, John Locke and J.A. Konrath are also setting the traditional publishing world on edge by proving that there are quality indie-pubbed authors out there making money on their own--although Hocking has recently signed a seven-figure deal with St. Martins.

4. Who is one of your favourite mystery authors and why?

The fun thing about being on the Crime Writers of Canada is that I've been reading a lot of Canadian mysteries over the last few years. I hate to pick just one though. I'm a big fan of Giles Blunt, not just because he's a great writer, but also because the Algonquin Bay (thinly disguised North Bay) setting is in northern Ontario, an area I know well and love. But I'm also a big fan of Barbara Fradkin's Inspector Green novels. And then there's Mel Bradshaw, Sylvia Multash Warsh. I could go on and on.

5. Which is harder to write: dialogue or description?

Description--especially in action scenes, which is why I rely heavily on beta-readers and an editor. I get carried away with the pace and forget to add the details that give taste and touch. Fortunately I have a grumpy editor who helps me fill in the blanks by asking the right questions.

6. What is the most challenging thing about plot for you?

Staying focused. I have a lot of ideas, so it's easy to run amok on side plots that don't drive the main plot and can be ripped out with no loss to the story. As Michael Crichton said: "novels are not written. They're re-written." I look at each story thread and ask, "if I pull this out, will the reader be missing anything at the end of the novel?" If the answer is no, then it has to go.

7. If you could bring any fictional character (from any genre) to life for just one day, who would it be and why?

Jake, from W.O. Mitchell's Jake and the Kid. I had a similar mentor in my teen years. Mentors are important for boys and young men, and Jake is one of those people who can be trusted to point in the direction. He proves that common sense doesn't require a university degree, and it sometimes comes with very rough edges.

The character Merv in A Summer of Bridges is a lot like Jake. I based Merv on my mentor, a man who could swear up a blue streak and drink a bar dry, but he watched out for me and taught me to think about how my actions could affect other people.

8. Imagine writing a profile for Kenny for an internet dating site. What would it say?

Just went to lavalife to see what an internet dating site looks like. So here's what I would put up there for Kenny.

Kenny: reliable skater-dude available for dating. Age: 18. Body type: slim. Smoking habits: Thinking about it. Drinking habits: Socially. Religion: somewhat Catholic.

9. Canada is too small a country for an artist (any of the arts) to really make it “big”, to become a success. And there are those who say that if an author wants to “make it”, he or she needs to have a setting in the USA. How well do you think American audiences respond to Canadian settings?

They've responded well to Giles Blunt's Algonquin Bay, but as Agent Helen Heller pointed out, that is unusual, and Blunt's novels are great depictions of a part of Canada that is unlike anywhere in the US. I think that Canadian writers should stay out of our more American-like cities. Lonely Planet travel guide describes Toronto as an American city in Canada. It simply isn't an exotic location for American readers, so why bother reading about it?

When I launch, A Summer of Bridges, I intend to market it to Canadians, because it’s set in our backyard, but I am going to take a stab at the American market too, because the far north is unique. It's still a frontier, and frontiers sell well.

10. Whether authors want it to be or not, social media is an important part of being an author. What are your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, and the like vis vis being a successful author?

Indie published author John Locke has over 20,000 twitter followers and is selling thousands of books. I'm late to social media, so I've a lot of catch-up to do, but clearly this is the marketing that allows an author to connect directly with fans. It's incredible, and it puts indie-authors on the same platform as traditionally published authors.

In fact, publishers that are desperately trying to keep market share in the face of e-books have finally started hiring staff to promote their authors again, a task they have just left up to the authors since the advent of social media.

11. What else would you like readers to know about you?

A friend once described me as a walking contradiction because I was spending my winters working toward a B.Sc in physics and my summers working construction. I think it has given me a unique perspective into our culturally stratified society. I can drink beer and watch the hockey game in a tavern in New Liskeard, Ontario, and yet I would still fit in after a symposium at McLennan Physical Laboratories, sipping wine and discussing particle physics. This helps me bring a wide variety of characters and perspectives to my writing.

For more on Michael McPherson, check him out his website http://www.michaelmcpherson.ca/ 

You can find Michael's works on Amazon at this link.


  1. Great read and thanks for sharing your thoughts Jill. You are right to note the stigma associated with self-publishing as an impediment and unfortunately examples like Howett are abundent in all industries.

    There are two points I would make in response to this really great interview.

    First, industry research suggests that self-publishing, particularly through e-publishers is becoming an increasingly attractive option. Costs associated with publishing, distributing, and marketing e-books are much cheaper which is allowing for more successful start ups.

    Jill cites a number of authors for whom self-publishing is a choice and I think you will see more authors take this route which will lend self-pubishing more legitimacy.

    Second, example of social media meltdowns are almost always the result of someone who hasn't taken the time to understand it. Just like anything else your online precence is your representation of yourself to the world -- it is a personal brand - and I underscore the personal aspect.

    Social media is about sharing your knowledge with the world and being open to conversing with your followers. The authors that really get social media are blogging about the ups and downs of the writing process, sharing industry insights, and generally just being themselves. Some of my favorite posts are pictures of their work spaces or things they draw inspiration from. Building your social media brand means building and maintianing relationships with your followers who will naturally advocate for your books to their friends.

    A good social media strategy is a really strong asset for a self-publishing author to cultivate. Would be interested in hear yours and others thoughts as well!!

    Michael Girard
    Community Engagement, Rad

  2. Thank you for a wonderful & well considered comment Michael G!

  3. Nice interview... very intriguing.