Name Michael Andre McPherson
Age: too old 🙂 fiftyish
Where are you from: Toronto
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
Bachelor of Science, Physics, Uof T. Class of 85. Married, three children, My oldest is a teenager in Grade nine, my second is grade six and my little girl is grade 1. I spent over a decade working as a camera assistant in film and television, but since my kids were born I’ve run a small I.T. business.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Heretics Fall, Book three of the 1000 Souls series, launched last December. It’s been a long time coming. Just to confuse things, book four of the series, Vampire Road, was written and published first back in 2011. It’s taken this long to bring the series together.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Grade six. I just loved telling stories, so I wrote a 60 page action-adventure novel featuring every kid in my class. It was a huge success at St Nicholas. Kids love stories about themselves as heroes beating bad guys.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Grade six. I didn’t consider myself an author until Storyteller Magazine bought a short story and sent me a cheque for $15 and change (2001). I figure you’re an author once you earn money for your writing. I believe you’re a writer if you write.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
During the early 1980s, I watched with horror as the world turned its back on Afghanistan during the Soviet Occupation, which began on Christmas Day of 1979. I traveled there in 1988, just before the Red Army retreated. I wrote a novel about that war set in 1983 during the height of the genocide. At that point (out of a population of 15 million) 5 million were in refugee camps in Pakistan, an estimated 2 million were dead, and another million were in Iran. This was almost never covered in Western news reports of the day. I thought a novel was likely to bring more attention to the issue. Sadly, the only literary agent who considered the novel rejected it on September 12th 2001. No one wanted a novel that portrayed the mujahideen as freedom fighters with a justifiable cause. I’ve shelved that novel for now, but I would like to bring it back one day.
I switched to SF because some stories are better told using allegory to make the point, especially when an issue becomes charged with contemporary politics.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I usually write 3rd person limited past tense. That’s what all the short stories were that Storyteller picked up, but lately I’ve been having fun with first person present tense. I know its all the rage these days since three of the four Man Booker nominees wrote in that style, but hey, it is a refreshing change, although it does have challenges.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I find titles torturous. The first story I sold I titled “Burning Moose.” That is the best title I’ve come up with to date. Storyteller Magazine (now gone, alas) stated in their guidelines that they wanted stories that “could only happen in Canada.” I thought about Burning Man in Arizona and decided the Canadians would burn a giant wooden moose instead. I sent them the story, and the editor (Melanie Fogel) admitted to me years later that they were sold by the title before they even read the story.
I went through about a hundred titles (no exaggeration, really!) before I settled on Heretics Fall for my most recent novel. Because it’s the story about one religion crushing another against the backdrop of an invasion, it seemed right. I also liked the ambiguity of it. Heretics is plural intentionally, and the word “Fall” could imply a calm change, like October, or a catastrophic end, like the fall of Constantinople. By the way, this story is inspired by the fall of Constantinople. So is Vampire Road. When I visited Istanbul, I was swept away by that epic history. For the Orthodox Church and the Eastern Roman Empire, it was the equivalent of the apocalypse.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
That people are all connected and interdependent, and that any conflict today is based on an endless sweep of history, and while it may seem important now, the lessons will be forgotten tomorrow. History is doomed to repeat.
The religion of my protagonist, Margaret, has as its central tenet that there are only 1000 souls spread evenly throughout all living humans. That means a person hosts only a portion of their soul. It’s possible to meet someone who hosts another part of your soul, thus a “Kindred Spirit.” You’re the same person spread between multiple bodies. Their religion doesn’t believe in heaven or hell, but they believe that you should treat each person as if they are a part of you, since they could well be. Souls spread into bodies at birth with no care for gender or race. Thus, it’s possible a white male could meet a black woman who hosts part of the same soul. Thus, this religion allows no discrimination.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
An army officer critiqued all weapons and tactics, and the locations in Chicago were very carefully researched. I believe the human interactions are very realistic. But since the novel takes place after an apocalypse, a good chunk of the circumstances are purely my invention.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
All of my short stories about painting bridges have characters and towns that were ripped right from my experiences as a 17 year old construction worker 500 miles north of home. The stories themselves are complete inventions except for one, which was “inspired by real events” as Hollywood movies love to state in the credits.
Heretics Fall also has a few characters from this pivotal time in my life—my “coming of age.”
My mystery short stories (such as Murder on Film, which won the 2006 Bony Pete at the Bloody Words Mystery Convention) are based on my decade working as a camera assistant in film and television. Again, the stories are pure fiction, but the gear and the settings are all very accurate.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Fitzroy Maclean’s Eastern Approaches inspired my interest in Afghanistan. In fiction I absorbed pretty much every word written by Frank Herbert during the eighties. In the 90s I really enjoyed anything by Robertson Davies (especially Fifth Business) or John Irving.
But I have to say that my mentor was not an author but a serious, crumbling alcoholic construction worker. We shared a motel room for a summer when I was 17. He watched out for me in the high steel, and he made sure I knew how to tie a knot for my safety belt or to secure a ladder. He also taught me a lot about people, and he taught me to drive even though he’d never had a license in his life.
He’s an important character in all my Storyteller short stories.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
King’s Gold by Michael Jecks. I met Michael at the Bloody Words Mystery Convention where he was the international guest of honour. My fourteen-year-old son read the novel and loved it.
In the last year, I’ve also been reading historical fiction like Michael Crummy’s River Thieves and The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe.
I still read SF too. Ready Player One was a good novel, and I hear it’s going to be made into a movie. I’m a fan of Canadian writers of SF like Robert Charles Wilson or Robert Sawyer. I also read mystery. I got up to Poor Tom is Cold by Maureen Jennings before the Murdoch TV series started production, and I’ve read a lot of other Canadian thriller authors like Giles Blunt (Black Fly Season and The Delicate Storm) and Linwood Barcley (No Time for Goodbye and Never Look Away)
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I’ve become a fan of Douglas Smith, whose novel Wolf at the End of the World (published last year) proved to me that the art of speculative fiction can still inform us about our own world. He shares his deep knowledge of contemporary first nations culture and circumstances with great sensitivity.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’m putting together an anthology of my mysteries set in the world of film and television.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
The Fledglings Writers Group. We met once a month for years to critique our short stories. During that time three of my stories won awards and 10 were published. I credit the Fledglings with greatly improving my craft.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Writing is definitely my career, but it often gets interrupted by my day job.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I’d write it faster.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I loved telling bedtime stories to my younger brothers. We shared a room, and I’d spin tales until we all drifted off to sleep. It was our ritual for winding down.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
The mystery stories set in the film industry came to me because while working on set I witness more accidents than when I worked in construction. I saw stunt people accidentally set on fire (and helped put them out.) I saw cars crash over cameras. I witnessed a stunt woman’s neck get broken when a wire failed. Another guy was dropped on his head.
Lastly, there were guns everywhere, even if they were loaded with blanks. I thought, “wow, there’s a lot of potential for murders in this industry.” With all the egos bouncing around, the sleep depravation, and the burn out, I’m amazed it’s not a weekly occurrence.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Hemingway referred to the blank page as the white bull. Any author who has sat down at their computer with an idea knows what I’m talking about. I need to stare down that blankness and start typing. I also sometimes find that a hundred pages into the novel, I finally find the beginning, and so I have to throw out the first hundred pages, even if they’re good.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Robertson Davis (except for the Lyre of Orpheus) His writing is so visual, and I think it works extremely well for a generation brought up with film, unlike older literature. I still remember that after reading a few pages of Fifth Business I thought: I’d open the film with snowball heading straight for the lens—visual writing. With just a few brush strokes, he conjures a complete scene.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
In 1988 I spent two months in Pakistan (often in Afghan refugee camps) and short stint in Afghanistan. I’ve also visited Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (again for the Afghan novel) Romania (for Vampire Road) and Eastern Europe and Russia for a potential thriller.
For my 1000 Souls series I went to Chicago several times.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Barry Currey. I like the covers he did for another SF author, Steven Montano.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Finding the time. Life will give a writer all manner of excuses to avoid sitting down in front of the computer. The key to being a writer is to block out time as if it’s a job with a boss standing over your desk sighing every time your clacking at the keyboard stops.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I have a cold heart. Call it realism, but not everyone lives happily ever after in my novels, and some injustices are never resolved. I can’t say that it will make my novels popular, but it does feel more real to me.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write. Publish. Repeat. I guess I should add the obvious: before publishing have it thoroughly critiqued by many and edited by a pro.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Love you all, especially the readers who spontaneously contacted me to say they loved the books.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Mr. Muggs in grade one, but if you mean the first time I picked up a novel, I think it was Anne of Green Gables. My grade six teacher started reading it to us, but she had to take a couple of months off due to a car accident. I couldn’t wait for her to get back, so I read the book myself, as well as the sequels Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island. I can’t swear that this is the first novel I read, but it’s certainly the one I remember the most. My son just read The Silver Sword, which follows the journey of a displaced Polish orphan through Nazi Germany. I read that one either in grade five or six too, and it also stayed with me, perhaps because for the first time I understood how lucky I was to be a kid in Canada in the second half of the 20th century.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
The News, especially political news.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Richard Branson. He wrote a blog about how having dyslexia helped him succeed in business because if someone couldn’t put their idea into one easy to read paragraph, he wouldn’t invest. His theory was that if they couldn’t present it in a simple clear fashion, they hadn’t thought it through yet. I admire someone who turns society’s perception of a disability on its head and views it as his advantage. Besides that, I suspect he’d be fun to share a pint with at a local pub, even if he wasn’t rich and famous.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
He ran a sub-3 hour marathon. Sorry, I’ve tried six times, and the best I’ve done is 3hrs, 1min, 50 seconds. Why is 2hrs, 59 minutes so important? It’s like publishing, you try and try for that bestseller, but it takes a lot of work to get that extra little bit that pushes the writing career over the top.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Running. My tenth marathon is on May 3rd. I know I mentioned above that it’s my seventh try at sub-three hours, but my first three marathons were about getting into and running Boston, so I didn’t run them that fast.
Some of my best writing comes to me after about four kilometers. The prologue of Generation Apocalypse, which has been very well received, came to me on the road. I got home, still sweating and stinking, and I sat at my computer and clacked it out as if I was reading it. The editor hardly changed a word.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Right now I’m watching Bloodlines. It’s like literary mystery, for the writers and director certainly take their time with the story. Yet, it’s captivating. Mesmerizing.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Cajun/creole (at Southern Accent) or Indian
Color depends on the day /
Music: Everything from dance to orchestral gothic. It largely depends on whether I’m running (dance) or sitting and listening (Alternative), or writing (pop orchestral, think Temple of Love).
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Geophysicist. I graduated just as the price of oil dropped by more than half and Calgary emptied itself of any geophysicist with less than five years experience. (Sound familiar?)
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?