Michael Stephen Fuchs is co-author of the bestselling ARISEN series of military ZA novels - as well as solo author of the prequels ARISEN: Genesis and ARISEN: Nemesis (an Amazon #1 bestseller in Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction and #1 in Dystopian), ARISEN, Book Nine - Cataclysm (#1 bestseller in War, #1 in Military Science Fiction) ARISEN, Book Ten - The Flood (an Amazon overall Top 100 bestseller) and his latest ARISEN, Book Eleven - Deathmatch (check out our review here). The series as a whole has sold over a quarter million copies. He is also author of the D-Boys series of high-tech special-operations military adventure novels, which include D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2017); as well as the philosophical cyberthrillers The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation). He lives in London and blogs at www.michaelfuchs.org/razorsedge. You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or by email (www.michaelstephenfuchs.com/alerts).
How did your writing career begin? Did you always intend to write novels?
For a long time I believed there were only two types of people in this world: those who had written and published novels, and those who had not. I further believed that it was absolutely critical to any success or happiness I was going to have that I somehow get into the first group. As a result, I spent two hard years writing my first novel - and four long years fixing it. (It was a mess! Totally unpublishable, initially.) For better and worse, I got just enough encouragement from the publishing industry along the way to keep me bashing along trying to repair, and market, that book. In the end - nearly ten years later - I did, when it was picked up by Macmillan. As it turned out, being in the first group (the published) wasn't all that different from being in the second group - it certainly didn't make everything in my life okay, and of course you imagine everything will be okay when you achieve your dream - and then suddenly you don't even have the animating dream anymore! So, as you can imagine, I was a little crestfallen. But that's another story. Years later, making it as a jobbing novelist, probably makes it all worth it.
What were some of the biggest challenges with co-authoring a massively complex series like Arisen?
A lot of them were simply interpersonal, actually. Writers have egos, and personalities, and quite a lot of their sense of selves wrapped up very tightly in the writing. It can be hard to put all that aside and do what's best for the work. (It's also critical that you do so.) By the same token, there was much that was incredibly gratifying about the process. For years people told me, "Oh, you have to join a writer's group!" And I'd say, "Listen, man the very last thing in the world I want to do is sit around shooting the shit with a bunch of other wannabe unpublished writers." But it turns out some things really were missing; I just didn't know it. For starters, writing alone, you shoot off some ideas, then some pages, then some books, and they sort of go off into the empty silent universe and disappear. Writing collaboratively, you shoot off an idea - and it hits the other guy, and sparks up, and flames, and comes back at you in a bigger, crazier form. It's fun. Then we'd just join up in a chat area most days and interact. That was great. I've totally not really answered your question.
I think the challenges of co-authoring something massively complex like this were similar to just authoring it. Keeping the overall story arc in mind. Timings between dependent events in different storylines. Ordering the material. I do a lot of "tactical design" - in some cases, I've basically had to plan a large invasion or set-piece battle, not utterly dissimilarly to how military planners might do it. Making sure each of the major characters gets his or her time in the sun - and, importantly, has some personal issues and a journey to be on. Making sure that all or most of the material stays "on theme." (I'm constantly reminding myself, and slightly tweaking, what the core theme(s) of Arisen are.) I also read the entire series again before each new book, to try to keep the overall story arc in mind, remind myself of set-ups so I don't miss opportunities for pay-offs, make the characters more alive again in my head. This series is really a five-year project, kind of amazingly.
As an author who has released books through a traditional publisher and through the self-publishing process, what factors do you consider when deciding which route to take?
The factor I pretty much consider foremostly is the one where I'd like not to sign away 100% of the rights to my own intellectual property, until 70 years after my natural death - to guys who will probably screw up the editing, cover, title, pricing, and distribution - in exchange for, on a really good day, 8.5% of the cover price of any copies they manage to shift. (See this post by J.A. Konrath—on the unconscionability of traditional publishing contracts.) The big New York and London publishers had an oligopoly on distribution of books for decades, and usually used that power to screw authors, also for decades. Now their lock on distributing books is broken, almost certainly forever. And I can keep the rights to my work, keep control over editing, cover, price, everything else, and earn 70% of the cover price. So those are pretty much the factors I consider. (There's more on my blog about this, here, here and here.)
You have a blog, Facebook page and a Twitter account. Are these your primary promotional tools or do you employ other methods as well?
The biggest promotional tools for the books are the other books. Your books sell your other books. As Konrath put it, we're now in the happy and amazing situation where the best thing a writer can do with his time now is write. Which is how it ought to be. And Amazon's distribution is really the great promotional tool. The one other thing that's said really to work is your e-mailing list. That's kind of gold. When you launch a new book, you send the notification to all those guys on your mailing list... then they all rush out and buy the book... which shoots you up the Amazon genre bestseller lists - which gets you in front of tons of new people. That's the main thing, I think. Glynn knows a lot more about this stuff than I do.
What’s the most important piece of advice you would give someone working on their first book?
Probably actually "enjoy it." I very fondly remember the process of writing my first one. It was all intuitive, and exuberant, and fun. Now I know way too much about storycraft, and it's more like architecting and building a skyscraper than drawing a picture, or singing a song, or something simple and fun. But, totally contradicting that advice, I'd also say: learn as much about story principles as you can. Start with Robert McKee's book Story. Oh, wait, most important of all actually is: put your ass in the chair every day - and produce. Steve Jobs said, "Real artists ship." And Steven Pressfield said, "The most important thing about art is work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying." And he's right. That advice is gold dust. More invaluable advice for writers from Pressfield here.
If you were in an actual zombie apocalypse, what fictional characters (books, TV and movies) would you want to team up with? (No superheroes, that would be cheating)
Sergeant Major Jonas Blane from The Unit, obviously. All of that team from The Unit, actually - Mack, Hector, Carlito, and Bob. Leon, The Professional. Inspector 'Tequila' Yuen from John Woo's Hard Boiled. Zoe Washburne from Firefly. (There should probably be a lot more women on this list.)
With the climax of the Arisen series in sight, do you have plans for your next project?
I've actually got a not-all-that-small handful of Arisen side books and prequels planned. On the sort of commercial side, when you finally hit on a project with a really fanatical following and audience, it's kind of madness to cast it aside and just try something else. (Doyle never moved on from Holmes, nor Agatha Christie from Miss Marple. They knew when they had a winner.) On the artistic side, Arisen is the whole world. I've got two years of zombie apocalypse to play with, plus the rebuilding if I want, and back stories and adventures for all the major characters (all of whom, as necessary, I can even bring back to life). I kind of feel like I can explore everything I want to as a storyteller within the Arisen sandbox, at least for the time being. Though, there are some very sweetly impatient fans of my other series, D-Boys, who would like to see the next book in that one...