Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chewing the Cud in the Myriad Spheres

The following is an e-mail conversation between Benjamin X. Wretlind and myself between March 6th and March 14th. Both Ben and I thought it would be interesting for readers to see how a couple of Indie writers look at the world. We tried to talk mostly about writing but, of course, it quickly got sidetracked into the meaning of life, what makes for good art and Justin Bieber.

MKR: Ben, we’ve both written about the topic of “legacy.” In your case, you have stated that the reason you write is to leave a legacy (link). I wrote that I believe writers–at least this writer–have an obligation to leave something of value to society, something that enriches our culture rather than cheapens it (link). Do you have any further thoughts on this?

BXW: I’ve been thinking about this a lot, lately, although I don’t like to admit it’s because I’m almost 40 and I’m falling victim to that whole “mid-life crisis” thing. I actually spent a good amount of time in the early ‘90s studying philosophy and various religious texts to see if I could come up with an answer to the question that was on my mind: not what the meaning of life is but if it’s a reasonable goal to expect to leave something of value for future generations and if so, what defines value.

I read your blog article on the topic of whether or not a writer has a responsibility to leave a legacy behind, and I thought it amusing that a snippet of Star Trek IV popped into my head after one of your statements. If I may quote your blog:
“Good art has staying power. A work of art may take the nation by storm for a summer–think of films or pop songs or mass market thrillers–but who will remember it a year from now? A generation from now? In two hundred years the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, will still be performed. Adele? Probably not. MC Hammer? Certainly not…Great art has to transcend those boundaries and be as meaningful for a person a hundred years from now and a continent away as it is for those who were around when it was created.”
And now the Star Trek IV banter between Kirk and Spock:
Kirk: You mean the profanity? That’s simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays attention to you unless you swear every other word. You’ll find it in all the literature of the period.
Spock: For example?
Kirk: Oh the neglected works of Jacqueline Susan. The novels of Harold Robbins…
Spock: Ah, the “Giants.”
While amusing, the conversation sort of “fine tunes” your statement that great art must be as relevant centuries from now as it is now. Does this mean that we must–and I stress must–create art that lasts the test of time? Should that be our goal and a good part of the legacy we leave behind? Or should we focus more on art in the now–write that which is fits into whatever Jell-O mold that’s currently in vogue?
Personally, I say screw the Jell-O and write what you want, hoping Spock reads it years from now.

MKR: On that same topic as that Star Trek quote, I personally feel that Catcher in the Rye hasn’t aged well at all. I feel like it’s one of those novels that got onto the high school reading lists because it was about a teen-aged kid and teachers have clung to it ever since based on that alone. Mainly, I think Holden Caulfield’s attitude/personality is not reflective of “the Universal teen,” so to speak. He came out of a very specific Jell-O mold that doesn't play in the 21st century. His particular brand of “angst” just doesn’t seem authentic.

As to whether or not we must leave something that will last the test of time, I think we must at least strive to do it. Ultimately, it’s not up to us. But if we only write books that are in the currently popular mold, it’ll be like disco: rarely spoken of and, when it is, much maligned.

Tell me, when you were studying philosophy and religion did you find the answer you were looking for? It’s actually funny that you mentioned that because yesterday I wrote a blog post about politics and religion in fiction (link). I’ll probably post it sometime today. And while we’re on it, do you feel there is one specific “meaning of life?”

BXW: I think there is only one meaning, but it’s different for every person. For me, the meaning of life, the universe and everything is 42. Or was that the answer?

No, I didn’t find what I was looking for in those religious and philosophical texts, and although this sounds like a U2 song, I still haven’t found what I was looking for. I think, like you said, it’s reasonable to strive to leave a legacy–and for those who have the gift of storytelling, perhaps leaving a legacy might even be considered a responsibility. However, there are those who want to leave their mark and, believe me, the mark they leave doesn’t have the impact they hoped it would.

I’ve been tossing around a blog post on literary fiction, what defines it and how it can be marketed well. Not that I have any idea how to market anything (see here), but it’s been an interesting research topic. Part of the Wikipedia article on literary fiction (link) contains an interesting line, especially in light of our conversation here. “Literary fiction may also be characterized as lasting fiction–literature which continues to be read and in-demand many decades and perhaps centuries after the author has died.”

MKR: You say the meaning of life will be different for every person. But wouldn’t you say that there are some things that definitely aren’t the meaning of life? For example, can desiring to die a millionaire be a valid meaning? True, if one has children that will leave them in good shape financially but what if one neglected his children during life to amass that fortune? I guess my point is I reject the idea that anything can be meaningful–truly meaningful. What if someone sees it as their life’s goal to build the ultimate Justin Bieber fan site? That may be the meaning of that individual’s life but is it valid and valuable to society as a whole? This also gets back to my art vs. great art discussion. I am very liberal in what I will call art. If fact, the only criterion I have is that it must have been intentionally created as art. Now, it may be created to serve other purposes as well–religious or architectural, for example–but there is still an artistic desire in the heart of its creator. But just because I will call something art does not mean it is great art.

So, I think the meaning of one’s life–whatever it may be–must have meaning to society as a whole. And for that meaning to be great it must endure, as we’ve talked about. In a hundred years Justin Bieber will be dead and his music will be largely forgotten. If that fan site exists at all it will be rarely visited. What will that person’s life work have amounted to?

How many millions of lives have been spent worrying about ultimately inconsequential things? How many billions of days were wasted on idle frivolity? It’s kind of a depressing thought but the overwhelming majority of humanity is destined to be forgotten. Once we are dead and everyone who knew us personally is dead we will be nothing more than unvisited gravestones, ghosts in photographs and meaningless names. I think that the meaning of life–my life–is to avoid this fate. I probably won’t have children so I won’t leave a genetic legacy but I hope that I can leave a lasting literary legacy. Which is why I like that definition that you provided for “literary fiction.” It is exactly what I hope to accomplish.

If one considers one’s own life, it can be largely broken up into three pursuits, each occupying about a third of our life. The first third is occupied by work, the second third by sleep and the last third by everything else. It is in that last third–unless one is fortunate enough to have a job that allows one to work toward one’s legacy–that one must accomplish all of this. Eight hours a day–perhaps six or even five, when one takes out time spent preparing for work or bed, commuting, taking care of the necessities of life–are left to us to achieve our dreams. It is ironic that such little time is given to us to work toward immortality. Even eternity has an expiration date.

BXW: Sorry for the delay in responding. I got stuck on the Justin Bieber fan site.
You say that eternity has an expiration date. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

MKR: Simply that if we want to be remembered for eternity we have a very short time in which to accomplish that. As a self-professed idler, I am guilty of this myself, but how much time do we spend watching television, surfing Justin Bieber fan sites, oversleeping, playing video games, etc., when we could be working toward immortality? Of course, there are things we have to do and things we do because they bring us pleasure; this is understandable. Human interaction is important, maintaining good mental health is important, having some form of release is important. But I think that the vast majority of us here in the Western world (I won’t pretend to presume what the lives of those in developing countries are like) seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on frivolities. What are your thoughts on it?

BXW: We do spend a lot of our time on frivolities, but perhaps some of life should be spent that way. In my own world, I write early in the morning before anyone is awake. In the free time I have after the day job, I usually paint, read or sing poor karaoke tunes with the significant other. I think it’s necessary for a writer who has the ultimate goal of immortality via art, to work at it as much as possible. However, as James Howell told us in 1659: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Of course the addition to that proverb as written in 1825 by Maria Edgeworth warns us that “All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.”

I guess, in that respect, life must be balanced appropriately with the pursuit of immortality.

MKR: You are, of course, correct. As writers we place upon our shoulders the task of revealing the world, revealing life, in a unique way. To do this we must, of course, live life! A writer who attempts to separate himself from the world so that he might work at his art is doing himself a great disservice. I think that the important thing is to spend a good portion of your time doing things of value, things that will strengthen your craft as a writer or improve and enrich your life–or the lives of others–in some way.


Benjamin X. Wretlind is the author of the literary horror novel Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors as well as the ongoing Sketches from the Spanish Mustang.

If you've enjoyed our conversation, feel free to add to it in the comments section below! Look for to a continuation of our ramblings over the next month or so!

A Conversation with Benjamin X. Wretlind - An interview I conducted in January
Chewing the Cud with Author Michael K. Rose - An interview Ben conducted in February

Friday, March 30, 2012

5 Tips for Great Author Interviews

Ahh, the interview. It seems like all writers love giving them and many love being on the receiving end as well. (Hey, get your mind out of the gutter!) I've had the pleasure to give several interviews and I've also interviewed one of my favorite writers, Benjamin X. Wretlind (see here). Having just finished giving a couple more interviews, I've been thinking about what makes for a great author interview. With that in mind, I decided to compile this list of five tips for interviews that both interviewers and interviewees can benefit from.

1. Consider a "Live" Interview - Many interviews consist of a list of questions sent to an author who then writes a response to each one and sends it back. This is fine and works well and all but one of my interviews have been conducted this way. But when I interviewed Benjamin X. Wretlind (and he, in turn, interviewed me) we conducted "live" interviews in which each question is based on the previous answer given. This takes a lot more time, of course, but makes for a much more fluid and engaging read. See our interviews here and here.

2. Make the Question Your Own - Often an interviewer will ask fairly standard, safe questions. Answer them, of course, but then find a way to say something that the interviewer didn't ask. Give your answer personality, let the reader get a deeper insight into your mind. Go into detail about your thought process when writing/creating characters/coming up with story ideas.

3. Propose Questions - If you are being interviewed, ask the interviewer to ask specific questions that will allow you to address topics that you think will make for a good read. If you are the one doing the interview, give your subject the opportunity to add questions of his/her own. If the interviewee is able to do this the answers will be much more engaging because s/he will be talking about something they really like discussing. It will make for a more dynamic interview.

4. Read Your Subject's Work - This is a tip for interviewers. Try to read something by the author you're interviewing. I know this is not always possible but if you can ask specific questions about the author's book it will be more likely to pique the reader's interest in the work. Asking a broad question about the theme or plot can do this if the interviewee responds in the right way but when the reader sees that the interviewer was interested enough to give the book a read it will help promote the work. (Again, see the interview Benjamin X. Wretlind gave me for an example of this).

5. Open it to the Public - This isn't something I've had the opportunity to do yet but I think it would be a good idea. If, at the end of the interview, the blog's host opens the floor to questions with the understanding that the interviewee will answer them in the comments section, this will engage the readers and keep their interest in both the blog and the author's work for a longer period of time. A thoughtful response to a reader's question could make the difference between a quick read that's just as quickly forgotten and a sale.

And with that last point in mind, I'd love for you to add a comment if you have any more tips for creating great author interviews! To read all the interviews I've given, see my Interviews page here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sullivan's War: Book II Press Release

UPDATE: Sullivan's War: Book II is now available! Go here for more information and links.

Dear Friends,

Following is a press release to announce the upcoming release of Sullivan's War: Book II - A City without Walls. I am actively looking for people to interview me or those who will be willing to share the press release on their blogs, websites, Facebook pages, etc. If you would like to help make this book launch a success, please email me at Thanks in advance!


Since author Michael K. Rose released Sergeant Riley’s Account in December of 2011, this introduction to the science fiction series Sullivan’s War has received rave reviews and has been a frequent presence on Amazon’s “Best Sellers in Science Fiction Series” list. The release of Book I in January, entitled All Good Men Serve the Devil, has also made it onto that best sellers list, reaching a rank of #30, and has earned glowing reviews of its own.

Now Mr. Rose is set to release Sullivan’s War: Book II - A City without Walls. In this thrilling new installment, Rick Sullivan must track down the man who’s kidnapped the woman he loves, all while avoiding a ruthless bounty hunter and trying to move forward his ultimate plan: to free his home planet Edaline of its oppressive regime.

Filled with action and suspense from beginning to end, A City without Walls is sure to please not only fans of the Sullivan’s War series but all fans of the science fiction genre.

Don’t miss out on 2012’s hot new science fiction adventure series! Look for Sullivan’s War: Book II - A City without Walls on March 30 at Amazon’s Kindle store and Barnes & Noble’s Nook store.

You can find out more about the series by visiting these links:

Sullivan’s War: Prologue - Sergeant Riley’s Account
Sullivan’s War: Book I - All Good Men Serve the Devil
Sullivan’s War: Book II - A City without Walls

Praise for Sullivan’s War :

"Once you start reading this series, you will be hooked."
"Gritty, hardcore sci-fi with a fascinating twist, guaranteed to please!"
"A sci-fi thriller laced with action and political undertones. A Must Read!"
"Mr. Rose knocks another one out of the galaxy...."
"The writing style is engaging and creative...."
"[T]his thrill-a-minute ride will keep you glued to your seat until the very end."
“With sharp prose, delicate and--at times--stabbing dialogue, scene setting that is on par with the best of the fiction writers of the past, Rose delivers a one-two punch to the gut that makes this reader want more and more.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Oh Boy! Politics and Religion in Writing!

     I sometimes wonder if it’s possible to be a writer and be non-political. Not in the sense that one is a news hound and watches the debates with bated breath, but in the sense that one has a very clearly-defined political ideology. I wonder this, of course, because as I write I find my own political ideology slipping into my stories. I do not intend to do this; it’s just that as I write situations seem to naturally arise that ask--nay, beg--to address political issues.

     In the Sullivan’s War series, the whole idea of political corruption is, of course, an ongoing theme. I suppose some will read it and say “Aha! He’s commenting on our own current administration!” Others might read it and say “I’m with him! There’s no doubt that he’s referencing a certain administration that ran for, oh, say the first eight years of the 21st century.” And still others might say “What a scathing metaphorical indictment of the Taft administration!”

     I find this interesting but the truth of the matter is, I’m not doing any of it. The Stellar Assembly, the main governing body in Sullivan’s War, is not flawed by way of design; it is flawed because it relies on human beings to carry out that design. And believe it or not, human beings are flawed.

     Our main flaw, I think, is that of greed. Give a group of people a supply of anything and one or some of them will grab a larger handful than the rest. The greedy person will, of course, justify this behavior in a variety of ways and will no doubt not see themselves as greedy but as somehow “more deserving” or “more capable of managing the resource.” If anything will be the downfall of human civilization, I believe it will be this trait.

     I think the Prologue and Book I of the Sullivan’s War series are very open to interpretation. It’s a bit accidental that it turned out that way but I’m glad it did. Now, Book II, due out on March 30, will probably reveal my political stripes a bit more clearly. I considered the effect this may have on readers. Will they like me and my work less if their political beliefs happen to run counter to mine? Will my work be polarizing, with some proclaiming me to be a genius, others calling me an ignorant hack?

     I figure the only way to avoid this from happening is to focus not on politics, but on religion. There’s a safe subject. Questions about the afterlife do arise in Sullivan’s War: Book II, but those questions are left largely unanswered. However, my next project after Sullivan’s War, a novel called Chrysopteron, deals rather directly with the issue of religion.

     Briefly, it is about a generation ship called the Chrysopteron that is en route to a distant planet. An event occurs aboard the ship that gives rise to a new religion and this religion becomes a point of contention for the future inhabitants of the planet once they begin to realize that many of the things they believe may not be true. The novel touches on many themes but one of the issues it examines is this: is religion a net positive or a net negative for society? It also asks whether or not historical fact should be an acceptable tool to condemn a religion. Specifically, are the merits of a religion really dependent on whether or not what its adherents believe is true? Can a religion survive being exposed as a complete fabrication? Can the religion carry on with its followers now viewing their mythology not as historical fact but as moral allegory?

     Of course, like any good religious story, there must be ambiguity. What really happened aboard the ship? Sure, the legend that arose around this particular event is exposed, but the event itself… was there something more to it? Will another event that occurs in the story’s “present day” assume the same significance that the first did for the main characters’ ancestors?

     Now, I know that many will read Chrysopteron and see it as a condemnation of religion. It is not my intent for it to come across that way, but the story requires it. What I mean is, if the religion in Chrysopteron is not called into question, there is no story, at least not the story I wanted to tell. This is one of the reasons that, despite being nearly finished with Chrysopteron, I intend to spend a few more months on it. I want to make a strong point, of course, but not in a way that will alienate readers. I want to leave readers asking questions about their own beliefs, not feeling as though I’ve made an obstinate proclamation regarding religion.

     In the end, I realize that tackling such issues as politics and religion is bound to leave some people unhappy. But for whatever reason these two things are so inseparably tied to our history and our culture that any writer is missing exploring a significant part of the human condition if he does not address it at least occasionally. And I do not believe a person ever became a writer so that he might be timid. So if you are a writer I say to you: be bold but be considerate. If you have a particular point of view to express do not do so with rage and bluster. Rather, let your skill as a writer allow you to weave that point into a narrative where it will find a natural home, where it will engage the minds of your readers and, even if they close the book disagreeing with you, will at least have them closing it thanking you for engaging them with grace and humility. There are highly political authors who never learned this lesson and they are the truly polarizing figures. They are the ones that drive a wedge between opposing sides rather than bringing them together in civil debate. With my writing I hope to do the latter.