Interview with Michael Anthony – Author of My Best Friend Death

MY BEST FRIEND DEATH

Today I am trying something new – an interview. I would like to introduce a dear friend of mine, Michael Anthony, who will be releasing his debut novel My Best Friend, Death this Sunday, June 8th. It will be available on Amazon.com.

Mike has a wonderful talent to spin a story filled with colorful characters and an intricate plot that will take you on an amazing journey where you can never be sure where you will end up, and never wanting to get off. I’m honored he has agreed to allow me to showcase his story today.

Please see the book blurb following this interview for a peek inside the world of My Best Friend Death.

 

Let’s start with what inspired you to write this story.  Where did you get your idea for MBFD?

This story was inspired by a short (short) story written by a good friend of mine. It was a single scene describing a cloak-and-scythe Death walking into the woods. He was depressed and brooding, so he sat on a rock, hoping the sounds of the forest would lift his spirits. Instead, out of fear of capturing is attention, all the woodland creatures fell silent.

That’s where the story ended.

It doesn’t sound like much of a read, but the language he used painted such an amazing picture, and it truly captured the way people misunderstand Death. His story stayed with me for a long, long time, and My Best Friend Death grew from the way his story made me feel.

As for where I get my ideas—Everywhere. To share a novel next in my queue, the idea for Black Market Baby came from a conversation with a co-worker about the cost of babies on the black market. Around the same time, Edward Snowden leaked the NSA documents (which I perused), thus a story about a baby sold on the black market and raised as a torturess was born.


What is your (least) favorite scene in MBFD?

My favorite scene would have to be the mudball fight between my main character and two supporting characters. That was by far the best scene to write. Having never been in a mudball fight personally, it was great to live out that experience with imaginary friends characters in my story.

Yes, all writers are a tad insane, but you already knew that.

I can’t really get into my least favorite scene to write because that would spoil it for my readers. Between you and me, it was the turning point for Josh. That’s all I’m saying.

 

MBFD isn’t the first story you’ve written. I’ve been fortunate to work with you on other projects and notice most of them have a dark or sad overtone.  But your actual personality is nothing like that.  In fact I would say it’s quite the opposite, so where does all this character angst and suffering stem from?

To answer truthfully, my life hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. Though I’m young, I’ve walked through storms that would bring stronger men to their knees. But what I’ve learned over time is that strength, much like happiness, is a choice.

I write a lot of dark/sad novels so I can better portray the choice that every man, woman, and child must make—will I be strong and happy, or weak and miserable. I write novels that explore both paths in attempt to persuade the reader, through moral integrity and impropriety, that strength and happiness is paramount to leading a life worth living.


That’s a great approach to life. So if you were swept back in time and sitting in front of your computer ready to type the first words to MBFD, would you change anything that might have been too difficult to alter once finished with your MS?  If so, what?

I don’t think I would change a thing. My Best Friend Death was 100% pantsed, yet it managed to come together in a way that surprised even me. I think that even the slightest change to the timeline would cause the story to spin off in such a manner that the ending wouldn’t be anywhere near as satisfying.

 


What do you want your readers to get from reading your books?

I want my readers to forget a meeting or train stop. I want them to put off something important so they can read just one more chapter, to stay lost in the worlds that I create. I want them to see the world as I see it—a great big beautiful place where magic and awe is just around the corner.

All in all, I want my reader to gain a sense of stillness peace in a world that can be so fast pace and erratic. If there is anything I want my books to do for reader, it’s that.


How did you get started in writing?

In high school, I had a crush on a budding novelist. I thought that if we shared the same interest, I’d have a better shot at wooing her. I didn’t get the girl, but I found my passion.

 

What other projects do you have in the works you would like to mention?

At the present moment, I’m working on an Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves retelling. It’s tentatively titled, The Thieves Guild. My goal is to publish it in the fall of 2014, but we’ll see how that goes. I’m also toying with the idea of publishing a post-apocalyptic series of short stories.

Thank you for taking some time out of your schedule. I know you’re very busy this time of year and congratulations on your release.

My Best Friend Death Blurb:

Damien Crown devotes his life to being his brother’s superman. Like all heroes, he’s locked in a deadly war with a formidable foe—his brother’s depression. Instead of perishing in a climactic battle as comics suggest, he dies at the screech of tires and the blare of a car horn. But in those last precious moments, he regrets not taking off the cape and living his own life.

But those regrets don’t last long when Death becomes his life-coach.

Given a new body and one more year to live, Damien seizes the opportunity to reinvent himself. Forbidden by Death from making contact with his old family, he knows the trek will be hard, but he’s happy to leave behind the pressures of his old life.

Until his brother attempts suicide.

Now, the only way to save his brother is to break Death’s rules. But with a life any kid would kill for, Damien finds himself stuck between who he was, and who he wants to be. He can don his cape and die for his brother, or hang it up and finally live for himself.

To find out more about Mike and his works please check out his social media sites:

IMAG0116Twitter

Website

Blog

 

Michael Anthony grew up in the suburbs of Virginia. As the middle child, everything requiring electricity or batteries was either hogged by the oldest or begged for by the youngest. All too familiar with boredom spawned from idle thumbs, he found adventure in the plethora of novels, encyclopedias, and maps found on the bookshelf. It was during his journey through those shelves that he discovered The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and The Giver by Lois Lowry.
From that day to this, Michael has had a love for great stories, fascinating characters, and travel. He hopes to see every corner of the world someday, and when he’s finished down here, he has his eyes set on the moon. He is currently studying history at a local college while he chases his dream of becoming one of the greatest writers of his age.

Remake: Part ∞

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An idea! An idea! My kingdom for an original idea! I realize I’m getting older, and the more I live the more I will experience. However, I don’t think I’m so old that I already have to live my life in reruns, at least in relation to when I want to be watch a movie.

News recently came out that there will be a Highlander remake.   Really, Hollywood? So much for ‘there can be only one’. Have all the good plots and characters been used up and now you have to go through your archives and resurrect old ones?

I enjoy going to the movies. But it seems that everything is a remake or sequel. Total Recall, Carrie, Robocop, Gremlins, and rumor has it there will soon be a remake of Dirty Dancing, and even Porky’s. In fact, there are over fifty movie remakes in the works. Seriously?

How many times can Bruce Wayne develop his neurosis of bats? Did Two-Face end up like that when someone threw acid at him during a trial, or did it happen when he toppled a chair he was tied to in a warehouse doused in flammable liquid?

This is not to say no good has come from remakes. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker certainly holds its own to Jack Nicholson’s interpretation, which was great. And the X-Men movies offer a great showcase for the latest CGI and visual effects. And we can’t deny each time there’s another remake or sequel released the public flocks to it, pouring money into Hollywood’s coffers, so why go out and find an original idea? If something works, don’t try to fix it, right? Just dress it up with different actors and more modern effects.

But while everyone has a favorite meal or dessert, if you had it every day you’d eventually get tired of it. Even a kid doesn’t want to eat PB & J every day of the year.   Now I do acknowledge there are original movies out there. I’m just basing this on what I see from billboards and commercials each day. Many of the plugs for the mainstream shows are remakes, adaptations, based on a book, or rehashing an already successful idea (aren’t we due for yet another zombie apocalypse movie about now?).

Maybe the Guf of original ideas is empty. Even as a writer when I start a new manuscript I can’t help thinking that what I’m writing has, in some form or another, been done already. My characters may be different, but the template is the same. Hero goes on an adventure and meets up with allies and goes out to save the day. That cookie cutter fits Star Wars, Indiana Jones, LoTR, every Marvel/DC Comics movie, Harry Potter, and countless others.

When you look closely, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker and Bilbo Baggins have a lot they can compare over a drink at the Cantina. Their journey began with them leading very mundane (dare I say perfectly normal, thank you very much, lives). They spent their days in their hovel (in the cupboard under the stairs, in a sand cave on Tattooine, or in a hobbit-hole), until they come across an old man with a white mustache and beard (length may vary from simple goatee to something that would put ZZ Top and Duck Dynasty folks to shame). The old man sends our simple hero on a grand adventure. Each armed with a special weapon (wand/lightsaber/magical blade) they strike out to fight the forces of evil. Along the way they make allies and friends to aid in their cause that will eventually end with them standing alone in the face of danger. And let’s face it, people – who doesn’t see similarities between Dobby, Yoda, and Golem? Just saying.

dobbyyoda

Individually, each of these is a creative, beautifully written, and unique story. Yet, the basic skeletal structure is the same. They are far from remakes of one another, but yet, it makes you wonder how original are original ideas nowadays? All three of these stories follow the Hero’s Journey monomyth outlined by Joseph Campbell’s as do many other stories and movies. It doesn’t mean they aren’t unique in their own right, but does it make them unique?

While there’s much to be said for coming up with a new and fresh idea, perhaps after a hundred plus years of movie making and thousands of years of storytelling, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Do’s and Don’ts

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Another inspiring author was discussing his manuscript the other day when he casually mentioned that his story opens with a short prologue.

Immediately people began chiming in with opinions. You shouldn’t put in a prologue. Prologues are outdated, no agent/publisher will even look at your query. You’re shooting yourself in the foot if you open with a prologue.

The general consensus was prologue = bad.

Many people believe that a prologue is a cheap way to give a backstory. Why do we want to start a book before the beginning of the book? If the backstory is that important, start there, but don’t put in an attachment before you even start. A master storyteller will incorporate the backstory into the chapters rather than putting it separately at the start.

It’s a valid claim. A good storyteller should be able to incorporate the backstory into the meat of the story. Of course, a good storyteller should also be able to craft a good prologue as well.

Writing is littered with do’s and don’ts like these.

Don’t use clichés, take it easy on the adjectives and adverbs, don’t start with a dream sequence, don’t make your entire story a flashback with the main character dying in the first scene, start with a hook, but not too cheesy.

If you took into account every suggestion or taboo you’d never be able to get out the first sentence much less a chapter. To add further confusion to the mix, every so often there’s a best seller which breaks all the rules and the author is put up on a pedestal and praised for going against the grain. Sure s/he’s the exception to everything, and an exceptional writer, so it’s a okay.

But how is one to hone their style and craft without going forward and spreading their wings?

When you start writing there’s one rule that everyone seems to agree with, which is pretty rare in this field. You need to write what you want, the way you want. If it goes against everything else people say, so be it. Sure you may be shunned, warned, ostracized, drawn in quartered or worst yet, rejected when querying. But, if I may risk using a cliché, ‘to thy own self be true’.

If you don’t write for yourself in a way you enjoy, you won’t interest many others. So if you want to start off with a prologue where the lovely, energetic, youthful, sultry heroine is ruthlessly shot in her perfect breast and as she sullenly recalls the chaotic, surrealistic events of how she got to this point we are taken back to a simpler time, then do it.   Chances are it won’t go well for you if you try to query it, but who knows. Maybe you’ll be put up on a pedestal instead.

Writing styles – plotter versus panster

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Anyone who writes and talks to other writers eventually gets asked the question:  ‘Are you a plotter or panster?’

While to an outsider it sounds like the perfect beginnings of a harassment case and the filing of a restraining order, it’s a common question.   Writers are interested in knowing if their counterparts outline and plan their stories before sitting down to write or if they just ‘wing it’.

A plotter plots out their manuscript, often creating an outline of the entire story before they launch their word processor and type their first word.  A panster may have a rough idea of what’s going on with their characters, but doesn’t have a clear and defined concept, yet they dive into their manuscript and see where it takes them.  They are flying by the seat of their pants.  While I’m not sure where the term ‘panster’ came from, I’m just going with my belief that’s why we are called pansters.  If you know differently, please leave a comment.

To be honest I have yet to meet anyone who is completely one or another.  Most if not all writers are going to be a hybrid of the two.  One writer I know does create outlines before beginning the writing process, but as far as I know, has yet to not alter it numerous times throughout her characters’ journey.

I consider myself predominantly a panster.  I will often have the beginning and the end of my story scoped out in my head, and at that point will beginning writing.  I sit down with my characters, which tend to be flushed out more than the plot I’m about to the put them through and tell them the following:  ‘Okay guys, here’s the deal.  You’re here, at point ‘A’.  I need you all to get over here, at point ‘Z’.  How you do it is up to you, just make sure you get there…except for you Smeadly, you need to die at point ‘R’.  Sorry, need to make sure the main character has motivation to continue forward.’

Aside from poor Smeadly, the process works for all of us, mainly because I believe my stories are more character driven then plot driven, so as long as I stay true to their personalities, the plot will be pushed forward.  As I write I will find myself adding the points ‘B’, and ‘C’, and (poor Smeadly), ‘R’.  So in some sense I’m never really flying blind.  But since I don’t have the outline to begin with, I would be considered a panster.

Most will agree they while neither is better than the other, one usually works better for an individual.  Most plotters will shake their heads in wide-eyed wonderment as the panster sits down and just begins written without consulting a stack of papers with the outlines and character profiles, and bite their tongue when we get writer’s block.  Pansters will roll their eyes and tap their foot as the plotter goes over their notes before preparing to tackle the puzzle that will soon be their next masterpiece. 

There’s no right or wrong way to write a story.  If it’s in you, it will get out and find its way to the keyboard.

The floggings will continue until morale improves.

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Sometimes motivation just escapes me.  Even when I have an idea that I believe has potential and just needs to be flushed out a little, finding the energy to bring it home just doesn’t happen.

It doesn’t help I have three full manuscripts sitting on a flash drive that haven’t caught the attention of any agents or publishers.  It doesn’t help that the average temperature outside has been in the single digits for the past two months either.

This is when people start to champion the optimist’s battle cries.  “Don’t give up hope.”  “You’ve got talent.”  “You just need to find the right agent.”  “It’s all very subjective.  But it’s a great story.  You’ll find it a home, soon.”

It reminds me of a previous job I had where, in my personal opinion, management was less than caring and ethical.  Sadly, for those who know me personally this doesn’t pinpoint the exact employer since I can say this about a few of them.

Anyway, most of the employees were not happy, and so being corporate leaders, management decided to make everyone read one of the most best-selling books of the late 20st century, Who Moved My Cheese.

Now for those blissfully unaware, this is a motivational book written by Dr. Spencer Johnson.  It’s an insightful story about finding strength to carry on even when the winds of change swirl about you at hurricane speeds.  It warns you that if you are incapable of adapting to your environment, you can find yourself in trouble.  It delivers this message with the help of a metaphorical maze populated by mice and two tiny humans.

In truth, Dr. Johnson brings up many good points and strategies within these pages.  Unfortunately for Dr. Johnson, corporate America was quick to exploit his message as quickly as governments exploit scientific findings and turned it into a weapon.

Armed with the good doctor’s wisdom, many companies, including my employer at the time, had their staff read this book and essentially said if you can’t handle change there is something wrong with you.  Apparently a strong, stable person should look at mergers, takeovers, and buyouts with enthusiasm, and look forward to cutbacks and layoffs as a child looks forward to Christmas morning.  Nothing says ‘happiness’ like a pink slip in your stocking.

I recall having at least four or five motivational speakers come in with a year’s time, and numerous inspirational theme days sprouted up including Hawaiian Day, Hat Day, and my favorite – Prom Day.  Each event encouraged employees to don the appropriate attire for the day.

When the movie “Office Space” came out I already left that job, but it brought about a serious case of PTSD.  I curled up into the fetal position and people tried coaxing me out from under my bed with pieces of cheese, promising not to move it away from me.  Well…it could have happened that way.

It baffled me that management seriously thought that hiring people to tell us to be happy and embrace change – which usually meant either being laid-off or seeing a reduction in compensation – would work.

It was a waste of time and money, and usually ended up causing more anxiety each time these mandatory meetings were scheduled.  It would have been less stressful to install air raid sirens to go off at random intervals throughout the day.

The worst part was that management tried to treat the symptoms, instead of the cause.  Of course, knowing their management style was the cause, what could one expect?

What does any of this have to do with writing, querying, and trying to catch the attention of an agent?  Not much, but it’s been a while since I enter a post in here.

However, this does touch on motivation.  While it does mean a lot to have friends and family support and stand by you when you are struggling, the bottom line is that no one can motivate you but you.

Fleeting thoughts or In search of…

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The first blank page.  For some writers it is a symbol of wonderment, representing a world of infinite possibilities to be embraced with energetic enthusiasm.  For others it is dread and woe, taunting the author worse than kids at a little league game tease a batter.

I envy some of my author friends who seem to have a notepad or drawer full of ideas (both figuratively and literally) they pull from them whenever they finish one manuscript and are ready to embark on their next adventure.  I have ideas, but usually it is tied to a character from a previous story which I decided to put on hold for one reason or another.

Having finished my most recent manuscript, I have been looking for that next idea that will spark that creative fire in me once again.  A few times I felt I found something only to discover before I even opened up my writing program that it was nothing but soggy driftwood incapable of supporting a fire much less a spark.

For weeks I felt there is something at the recesses of my mind – mocking, even challenging me to discover it.  I would chase after it like the Coyote pursues the Roadrunner, with about as much success as well.

Whether plotter or panster, the basic idea needs to be there for the writer to begin.  But how does the writer know when they have the correct idea instead of worthless driftwood?  Like finding that perfect gift, or soulmate, you just know.  And when you find it, you can’t wait to see that first blank page.

Character Development or

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Characters in stories, whether in books, movies, or TV shows change.  They should.  A character is a person – fictional – but a person.  If a writer wants a character to change, it needs to be through growth, and that’s not something that can happen overnight.

A good example of character growth is Walter White from Breaking Bad.  Granted the growth wasn’t in a good direction, but it was believable.  He was a modern day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  He tried to keep his original persona, while adjusting himself to fit in a the world he jumped into with both feet, and no pants.  Near the end it became impossible for him to keep them separated, and he became lost in himself.  But it took six seasons for this transformation to take place and the show won award after award due to the writing.  (I acknowledge there are many other aspects that brought it all together – but I’m trying to make a point here.)

A bad example of character change is Molly Biggs from Mike and Molly in season four.  We end season three with the couple starting a family, and Molly continuing to be the rock in the relationship.  We start off with season four with the whole baby thing completely forgotten, including the pregnancy and Molly’s jumping out classroom windows in front of her students.

In this article on TVGuide.com, the creator wanted to reinvent the show because he wanted Melissa McCarthy to be as popular on the show as she has been in her movies.  So they had her TV character quit her stable rewarding job as an elementary school teacher – which in previous seasons she spoke well about – and decide to become…what else, and unstable, off the wall writer.

I enjoyed her movies. The problem is when I went to see those movies; I went to see a movie.  When I turn on Mike & Molly I want to see the characters from that show, not from her movies.  That’s not who Molly is supposed to be.  And while I agree when they mention in the article referenced above that roles can flip in a real life relationship, this isn’t a real life relationship.  It’s a TV show that had an established dynamic that was working.

Walter White struggled with who he was becoming, and that fascinated people.  It was also the plot.  It’s in the title.  You know someone good is becoming someone bad.  Molly just became a new character with the same name.  There was no transition period.  If Cranston started out season four playing White like Hal from Malcolm in the Middle, I’m pretty sure he’d be short one or two awards, and there would be many AMC script writers looking for work.

Likewise, if Harry Potter came up to Draco in the beginning of Order of the Phoenix and said, ‘You know, Drac?  I’ve reconsidered.  The Dark Arts is the way to go.  I wanna be a Deatheater.  I know your leader and I got off on the wrong foot, but can I tag along at your next meeting?’ Rowling’s would have a much different reputation as an author.

When you force a character to change course so drastically and quickly, it won’t go well, even if you do throw in a two minute soliloquy about how bad your career is right before jumping out the window.  Since it came out of nowhere it won’t feel natural, and the audience isn’t going to accept it.

Lorre has every right to do whatever he wants to do with his shows, but it would have been better to just drop Mike & Molly and start over.  The show had its audience and was successful.  But replacing the characters, even though they are using the same names and actors, doesn’t work.

Both shows take a public school teacher with financial problems and had them pursue other avenues and careers.  One just did it better.

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