Posted by: Natalie Hatch | April 6, 2009

Launch Day with Special Guest – Michael Pryor

It’s  our blog launch so throughout this week the girls and I will be celebrating with giveaways, special guests and a general getting to know you party atmosphere.

Aussie SciFi/Fantasy author

To kick off this week I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Michael Pryor, awesome author of The Laws of Magic series, The Chronicles of Krangor series, Doorways trilogy, Blackout, Talent and many more. He also is a co-author with Paul Collins in the Quentaris series (a favourite of many tweens).
I’ve snaffled a few bio hits from his webpage as follows:
Michael was born in Swan Hill, Victoria.  He spent his childhood in country Victoria and Melbourne before moving to Geelong at the age of 10. He lived in Geelong until he went to university in Melbourne after secondary school.
He currently lives in Melbourne with his wife Wendy and two daughters Celeste and Ruby. He’s worked as a drainer’s labourer, a truck driver, a bathroom accessories salesperson, an Internet consultant, an Electronic Publisher, in a scrap metal yard and as a secondary school teacher. Whew. (I think he’s truly awesome now, teachers rock!)
He’s taught English, Literature, Drama, Legal Studies and Computer Studies (what no science?)
Over forty of his short stories have appeared in Australia and overseas in publications such as Overland and the New South Wales School Magazine. His writing moves from literary fiction to genre Science Fiction to slapstick humour, depending on the mood.
He’s been shortlisted three times for the Aurealis Award for Speculative Fiction, and has also been nominated for a Ditmar award. His short stories have twice been featured in Gardner Dozois’ ‘Highly Recommended’ lists in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Fantasy. Two of Michael’s books have been CBC Notable Books. He’s also twice won the Best and Fairest Award at West Brunswick Amateur Football Club. (okay)

You’ve written several SciFi/Fantasy series and have also worked with Paul Collins on the Quentaris series, was this the genre you started writing in or did you try others and ‘fall’ into this?

I actually started writing by writing short stories. I made a conscious decision to go this way, thinking that if it didn’t work out, I’d only lose a couple of months’ effort. If I jumped right in and wrote a novel, I reasoned, and it didn’t work … Well, it could be years down the drain.

The first stories I wrote were for kids because I was teaching at the time. I felt I had a good sense of the audience. And I could try out drafts on them, as well, which was an interesting process in itself. I wrote a few dozen quirky, funny stories about family adventures, mishaps between friends, outrageous misunderstandings, and they went down well.

A little later, a friend started an SF magazine and asked if I’d write a story for him. I’d always read SF and Fantasy so I had a go at that, for an adult audience. After a few of these, I wrote some other stories for adults, and these were non-SF.

A few years of writing funny stories for kids as well as SF stories and other stories for adults (and managing to sell them) people were asking me when I was going to do some proper writing. You know, a book. And I also had the feeling that I was spreading myself thin, trying to do too much. I decided to have a good long go at one particular area. So I gritted my teeth, took a long, deep breath, and started writing a novel for teenagers and it happened to be SF. I managed to get this published, and after that it’s almost always a case of ‘Can we have some more like the last one?’ And since this was SF, that’s where I’ve been ever since. I’ve managed to move a little bit sideways into Fantasy, and I’m happy with that too. I get to use my imagination, and I love that.

So what is it about Science Fiction that you love? (and are you a closet Trekkie?)

I love the fact that SF (and Fantasy) isn’t limited to the here and now. It can take a reader anywhere, it can deal with the big questions, it can amaze and delight. I like the way that a person could read totally within SF and Fantasy and get more variety of subject, style and approach than in any other area of reading. I love the sense of wonder that SF and Fantasy inspire.

Am I a closet Trekkie? To my mind, unless you dress up, you’re not a Trekkie – and I’ve never put on a velour suit and pretended that I’m Captain Kirk or Picard. But I do love Star Trek. As a youngster, it was one of the first TV SF series that made me really think about things. All the Star Trek series (and movies) are thoughtful, while still being rip-roaring adventures.

Live long and prosper.

The Young Adult market seems to be flooded with Vampires, werewolves and zombies at the moment, how do you think we can get science adventures to take over?

We are saturated with vampires, werewolves and zombies at the moment, which is a pity – because I love a good vampire, werewolf or zombie yarn. Or even a vampire vs werewolf vs zombie yarn. At the moment, though, it seems as if the deluge is creating a bit of a ho-hum reaction.

Can we get science adventures to take over? Perhaps. In some ways, modern techno-action thrillers (Anthony Horowitz, Matthew Reilly, Robert Muchamore) are borderline SF, and they’re doing very nicely. Near future science adventures could be the next big thing. With Global Warming being a hot topic, books that look at climate related disasters might go well.

Why do you think there’s a perception that girls don’t read science fiction?

Girls don’t read SF? There does seem to be a bit of that. The stereotype is boys read SF and girls read Fantasy (and horror like ‘Twilight’). Like all stereotypes, it oversimplifies things. Lots of boys read Fantasy, and some girls read SF. It’s an oddity, and I think it’s due to the common misconception about what SF is. If people think that it’s all about rockets, robots and aliens, that sort of thing has limited appeal. But when people understand that SF is much more than that, then they can enjoy what it has to offer. After all, I think you can make a case that John Marsden’s ‘Tomorrow When the War Begins’ is SF, and girls love that book.


Now your own Laws of Magic series uses a combination of steampunkian science (I think I just made up a word, woohoo) and magic set in an alternate history to share your heroes story. Was this a deliberate thing to take science and fantasy elements and meld them like you have? Phillip Reeve, Kenneth Oppel and Phillip Pullman have gone down a similar route with their own stories, should we target alternate histories as the new ‘big thing’?

Yes, this was a very deliberate decision. At one stage, the characters talk about ‘rational magic’, which is how I wanted to explore it. Lots of fantasy talks about the mystical and unknowable etc etc, so I wanted to do something different. In the spirit of the Enlightenment, I wanted a Magical Revolution, where intelligence and reasoning replaced superstition. The parallel I wanted to explore was with the way science became a rational, reasoned pursuit – to the benefit of us all.

Alternate histories are fun. Part of it is the pleasure of recognising the familiar – and recognising how the familiar has been tweaked for the purposes of the story.

I see that you’ve had a multitude of jobs including being a teacher (hooray for teachers – little plug there), do you find those experiences help you in writing for teens?
Being a teacher was extremely helpful, especially when I was starting writing. As an English teacher, when we had a writing lesson I’d take in what I was working on and ask the kids to offer feedback – just as I did for them with their drafts. For a start, they thought it odd, but they soon got the hang of it and they gave me some straight talk about how to make stories move along, how to keep a young reader’s interest, and how to engage.

What job would you really like to have (other than writer) and why?
I’d really like to work with computer graphics. I love fiddling with stuff like that. Or I would love to have been a sports journalist.

Do you have a music playlist that you listen to as you write, or any significant songs stuck in your head during scenes?
If I play music while I write, it’s usually music that has no words – or where I can’t understand the words (foreign songs etc). This is because I find that the words of songs can filter into what I’m writing, if I’m not careful … I love writing to movie themes, especially when I’m writing action scenes. Movie themes are great because they’re often full of momentum and drive, and they can keep a scene moving forward.

Now I’ve read that when you write action scenes etc, you tend to act them out to work out how a person would punch, twist, fall and so forth. Is this something you’d recommend to other burgeoning writers? What’s the weirdest scene you’ve acted out so far?
Acting out action scenes is handy, because it stops you writing a move that is physically impossible – and I’ve read a few of those. The strangest scenes I’ve rehearsed often involve being grabbed from behind. Do you know how hard that is to do to yourself?

What advice would you give to teens wanting to get into writing but perhaps are a bit overwhelmed at the scope of everything?
The best advice for someone who wants to get into writing is to finish a piece of writing. Lots of beginning writers have dozens of unfinished pieces lying around, and if they’re unfinished, they’re not doing anyone any good. Grit your teeth and actually finish one of them. And by ‘finish’, I mean finish the first draft, then revise and improve it until it’s done. After that, submit it somewhere – to a magazine, a publisher, whatever is appropriate. And now comes the key piece of advice. While you’re waiting to hear about this submitted work, START ANOTHER ONE! Keep working, keep reading, keep revising. Don’t sit back and dither.

Did you find it hard to gain an agent in Australia? Would you recommend getting an agent first or selling stories then finding an agent?
Getting an agent is easier once you’ve had something published, which is no help at all to someone who hasn’t been published … I was okay, having had a number of novels published, but it can be a tough job for a beginning writer. My advice is to try selling some stories first, to get some writing credits on your CV. Even try to get a novel accepted. After that, an agent will be more likely to be interested.

Could you share with us a little of your ‘call’ story (when your sold your first book).

My first book? I’d published a couple of dozen short stories before I tried my first novel. I wrote the Young Adult SF novel, and went through a number of drafts before I was happy. Literally, the day after I finished, the newsletter of the Fellow of Australian Writers landed in my letterbox and on the front page was a little note about a major Australian publisher who was looking for Young Adult novels in SF or Fantasy … Serendipity. Some time later (a couple of months?) the publisher contacted me and said they were keen to publish my book, but it was too long. They were after books around 60,000 words and mine was 110,000. If I was prepared to cut my book down they’d be happy to look at it again.

Naturally, I said ‘Of course!’

Some months later of really tortured cutting, dumping, condensing and culling, I managed to get it down to 70,000 words. I wouldn’t recommend that process to anyone, but it did teach me the value of every word in every sentence. But I couldn’t cut it any more, not without going back to scratch. What could I do? A brainwave later, and I sent it off. The solution? On the cover sheet, I simply lied – ’60,000 words’ it announced. I don’t know if it fooled anyone, but the book was accepted, published and shortlisted for the Aurealis Award.

I was on my way.
Thanks for the opportunity. It’s been fun!

Many thanks to Michael for being such a nice guy.  I’ve read the Laws of Magic series and love love love Aubrey. He’s hot, intelligent (oh wonderful) and he saves the world.. what more could a girl want? Oh and it’s set in an alternate history with magic powering engines.

Michael regularly visits schools around Australia and shares his wealth of knowledge with teens. His website has more details if you want to pester your English department to get him to come on in to your school.

We will be giving away a $10 Amazon gift voucher to one of our lucky  commenters, leave us a message and be sure to check back throughout the week for more fantastic give aways.

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Responses

  1. Fantastic interview to launch the blog, Natalie and Michael. Short stories are such an art – it’s a great way to train yourself to write tight. I never thought of acting out my action scenes! I’ll give that a shot from now on. With the curtains drawn and door locked, of course.

    ~ Vanessa

  2. Can you imagine acting out a demon possession or maybe a zombie invasion? We could become like StarWars Kid. A Youtube icon. LOL

  3. Wonderful interview and what an amazing site! Well done to all of you, it’s brilliant.

    Sandii

  4. Great interview and I love your definition of a Trekkie – nice and clear cut!!!

  5. A fantastic way to kick off, ladies. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Great interview! And what an awesome way to start the week.

  7. Congrats on your launch, lovely ladies of YA! Great interview!

  8. Ladies, thanks for allowing me to be involved in a small way. (Also big thanks for adding my site as a link).

    The interview was really comprehensive and a great read. I will definitely have to get my hands on a Michael Pryor book now. This is why I love blogging, exposure to authors or books I would never come across otherwise.

    Really excited to see what you lovely ladies come up with for We Love YA!!

  9. Great Interview Nat. Congratulations on the launch.

  10. I admit I haven’t tried any of Mr. Pryor’s books yet, but after reading this, I think I’ll see if my middle school boy wants to give one of his series a shot. Thanks for introducing me!

  11. Your site looks fantastic Nat et al. Lovely interview to get the ball rolling.

    Great anecdote from Michael about his ‘60,000’ word first novel, lol.

  12. Congratulations ‘We Love YA’ team. Great and interesting interview, Nat and Michael. Yes, I always thought Trekkie’s were the ones who dress up, while Trekkers are the ones who just enjoy it. I’m the latter not the former ;))

  13. Congratulations on the launch of your new YA blog, ladies!

    And also thanks for this great interview. Michael’s books sound exactly the kind of stories my son loves reading – I’ll have to hunt them down!!

  14. Michael Pryor books rock! Seriously his Laws of Magic books are fab, and it doesn’t hurt that his hero is a bit of a spunk. I think we should start a ‘Team Aubrey’ t-shirt business.
    Trekkies are those who wear the lurex gear, Trekkers just sit back and watch. I’m a Trekker not a Trekkie. Though there was a really snazzy Klingon outfit on ebay…hmm
    Thanks for all your good wishes.

  15. Great launch from a great bunch of writers. Have added you to my favourites. Looking forward to seeing more.

  16. I am so excited for this new blog! And I love the header. Can’t wait to see what else you guys have in store.

  17. Hello everyone,
    I’m honoured and flattered by the awesomeness of this site. May it continue to grow and fight the good fight for YA books!

  18. So Michael can we start ‘Team Aubrey’ t-shirts?

  19. Fabulous interview!

  20. One thing the world definitely needs is a ‘Team Aubrey’ T-shirt.
    Love a good T-shirt.

  21. Congrats on a great launch from a talented bunch of lovely ladies! Great interview with the talented Michael Pryor – and here I thought I was a Trekkie – but velour and me don’t mix on so many levels 🙂

    Hugs and best wishes for a wonderful career!

    Serena
    xx

  22. Love the blog!

    Great first interview. I think I may have to go to the library and borrow some of Michael’s books!

    Best of luck with the site, ladies.

    🙂 Mon

  23. Congratulations on your launch, Natalie and the YAers. I will have one of those Team Aubrey shirts for sure!

  24. Welcome, We Love YA team! This is a great interview.

    I am a huge Michael Pryor fan from way back and would totally be up for a Team Aubrey shirt. But what about George? I love him too! *conflicted*

  25. I know I did have a special spot for George, but really, Aubrey’s my man! (Yes I do know he’s a figment of Michael’s inestimable imagination but hey read the books!)
    Zoe I think the t-shirts are a hit, maybe we’ll have to come up with some. Who needs sparkles when you’ve got magic?

  26. Hey Guys

    Wonderful new site – you all rock for putting your foot forward for YA authors the world over!

    Nice scoop on Michael, he is such a honey too – a real gentleman. ( Waving to Michael from sunny Queensland.)

    Nat- I love that slogan – Who needs sparkles when you’ve got magic? Can I order one from you too?

    Wahooooo to the new blog.

    Bye 4 now
    Tina

  27. Nat, what a way to kick off! And you set a standard that I now have to live up to – after all, I’m rounding up our launch week.

    Well, look out – I have also secured a guest interview!

  28. YAY!!

    Congrats on the launch of your blog ladies. It looks great!!!!

    xx
    kelly


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