Thursday, December 20, 2012

An Interview with Author Justin Macumber

Welcome to Up Around the Corner, Justin. Please, tell us a little about yourself and your writing.

My name is Justin R. Macumber, and I’m a writer and podcaster. As with most writers, I started when I was a kid. It all began with Dungeons & Dragons, and me being too poor to buy adventures from the store to play. That meant I had to write my own. And I did. I actually came to prefer making my own adventures for my friends to play in. It made the game feel more real and personal. After that I dabbled in everything from writing my own comic books, to poetry, to writing story ideas for video games.

My first novel, HAYWIRE (from Gryphonwood Press) was a science fiction story about super soldiers being turned on their creators, but my upcoming novel, A MINOR MAGIC (coming December 3rd from Crescent Moon Press), is a post-apocalyptic fantasy, and I have a finished first draft of a horror novel sitting on my hard drive right this second called STILL WATER. I like to leave myself open to inspiration and excitement. If that means some of my readers don’t like some of the genres I work in, I’m okay with that.

As for me personally, I’m an army brat from birth, so my experiences literally range all over the globe, and I think that’s part of what made me such a reader and writer. I didn’t always have a friend wherever it was that the Army took my dad, but I also have my books to read, and later my notebooks to write in. I live in the DFW metroplex in north Texas with my wife, Krista, and our dogs and cats. I’m happy, I’m writing, and I’m getting published. AND I host a writing podcast called the Dead Robots’ Society that’s been a finalist for the Parsec Awards three times. I couldn’t ask for much more than that.

Sounds like you’re a busy man, Justin. How do you fit writing and podcasting, and all that’s associated with each endeavor, in your life?

By having a very loving and understanding wife. Because of her I’m able to stay home and be a full-time writer. Of course, since I’m home all the time I’m the one who gets to deal with chores, delivery people, vet visits, home repairs, and everything else, so somehow my writing hours always seem to get eaten up by other things. To combat that I make a schedule and I stick to it as hard as I can and, when I have to, I fight for it. I also try to use my time wisely and efficiently. Lastly I write as quickly as I can. Right now I get about 1000 words an hour. If I can bump that to 1500 then I’ll really be cooking with gas.

Would readers identify your writing as more character-driven or more plot-driven, or an equal balance—or does it even matter?

Early on I was very much a plot-driven writer. A lot of authors will say that characters are the only things that matter, but that’s BS. You can have the most interesting characters in the world, but if they aren’t doing anything interesting, then what’s the point? So usually when I create a story it’s all about the plot. What’s going on? Where? When? Why? After I have all that, then the characters start to form, which will often change the answers to those initial plot questions. Now I try to strike as much of a balance as I can between plot and character. I know I’ve succeeded when I have interesting people doing very interesting things in an incredibly interesting place.

With your method from the question above in mind, can you tell us about your most recent novel, A MINOR MAGIC, including the initial plot ideas that got it started and a character or two that participate in the action?

I have to thank my podcasting co-host Terry Mixon for A MINOR MAGIC. He had written a fantasy story and asked me to read it so that I could give him feedback. One of the characters in his story was a magic user, but I wasn’t sure he was handling her correctly, so when I wrote up my thoughts I used the term “minor magic.” Now I can’t recall exactly what that phrase had been in reference to, but for some reason it stuck in my head, bouncing around. I liked the flow of those two words together. So I asked myself, “What would a story called A MINOR MAGIC be about? Would it be literally about a minor, a young person with magic, or would it be about a person who only had small magic, not the big fireballs and dragon summoning stuff you see in other stories?” In the end I went with a mix of those ideas. You should also keep in mind that I have a niece named Alenna. She’s a beautiful girl just entering her teenage years, and sometimes I despair at the lack of female heroes she has to look up to. So, with A MINOR MAGIC I wanted to write a story about a girl I’d want her to look up, and that’s what I did.

A MINOR MAGIC is about a young lady named Skylar who has grown up in a world that was nearly destroyed by a magical fire when she was just a child. Civilization is gone, most of humanity is dead, and those who are left try to survive any way they can. Ten years later, as Skylar is starting to become a woman, she suddenly develops magical powers that cause her to be exiled from her home. From there she has to wander a burnt America in search of who she really is, and where her power comes from. In the book I wanted her to have a love interest, but I didn’t want to fall into the cliché that seems to pervade so much fiction these days were the guy in the book suddenly becomes the girl’s protector or sole reason for existing. Nathan is a guy she cares about, but she doesn’t revolve around him, doesn’t need him to win or survive. I wanted their relationship to be about what they give each other, not what they need or take. I’m hoping that it rings true to everyone who reads it, especially my niece. It’s coming out in print and ebook December 17th from Crescent Moon Press.

From the description of A MINOR MAGIC’s development, in some ways you broke away from the plot development first and then going to characters. Besides the two characters mentioned, Skylar and Nathan, is there a character that you particularly enjoyed writing and why did you find unique or different in creating/writing that character?

One of the other people that Skylar travels with is an older man named Jack. I had to have him since neither of the younger characters really knew what the world was like back before the Burning. Jack was the voice of us, the people in the here and now. I also liked him because I described him as a rather rough and tumble looking guy, but he has the heart of a geek, so I suppose he is the most “me” of any of the characters. He makes several Star Wars references, and I loved writing all of them.

Who do you see as your audience for A MINOR MAGIC? Is it the same audience as some of your other published works?

This is a hard question for me. I, as a writer, don’t want to be confined to any one genre. I grew up being a lover of sci-fi and fantasy and horror, and that’s what I want to send back out into the world. But, not everyone else out there is as non-denominational as I am, so spreading myself around might not please everyone, or it might make it harder for my name to become known. That’s okay though. So long as someone likes what I wrote, then that means I succeeded.

As for A MINOR MAGIC, I think it’s the most accessible of any story I’ve ever written. There isn’t any technical jargon to learn, no magical mechanics or new world maps to memorize. That’s one of the great things about writing from a young person’s point of view – their vision of the world is much cleaner and open than an adult’s, and it’s a point of view we all had at one time or another. I really think anyone could sit down and enjoy A MINOR MAGIC, from kids as young as ten on up through to seniors.

Here’s a bit of a switch up question that I’ve asked a few others previously interviewed: If you could go to lunch with three people (living or deceased) who would you choose and why, where would you dine, and what would you hope to discuss?

Wow, great question. There are all sorts of clarifying questions I’d like to ask to help narrow my choices down, but I’ll forgo that and keep it simple. If I could sit down and have a meal with any three people I’d probably choose Stephen King, Joss Whedon, and Kevin Smith. Why those three? Because all of them have inspired and influenced my writing, and I’d like to have a chance to pick their brains about how they came up with their styles, what advice they have for writers who are trying to improve their craft, and what obstacles they overcame to get where they are. They also cover the gamut of mediums, so I would try to find ways to juggle being a novelist, screen play writer, and perhaps even a comic book writer. As for where we’d eat, that’s easy: my home. I can’t think of a better place for a casual, intimate discussion. I’ll even supply the cigars.

Interesting choices, Justin. As we're closing in on the end of the interview is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just that I hope people give A MINOR MAGIC a chance. I know that the YA paranormal thing is getting old for some. It’s getting old for me too. That’s why I think people should read it. I’m a 40 year old guy, so the place I’m coming from is very different than where so many other YA paranormal writers are, and hopefully that means the story I’m telling will be different too. It’s not all puppy love and running through the woods from handsome villains. This is something other, maybe something fresh. And then, if you like it, go ahead and give my other work a try. As I said before, I don’t confine myself to one genre or style. I want to deliver intriguing stories, no matter if it’s the bridge of a starship, in a haunted house, or fighting wizards. And lastly, if you do end up liking what you’ve read, then please reach out and let me know. Heck, let me know if you didn’t like it, too. I’m not a delicate flower. We grow as much or more from criticism than we do from praise. Just reach out and let me know what you think. Feedback is the life’s blood of any artist. Thanks.

Here are the websites you can link to if you like:

Thanks for the interview, Justin, and the links!

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