Mike Stackpole: Writerly Jack of All Trades
Review by Drew Bittner
Date: 30 June 2011
Links: Author's Website / The Secrets podcast / Review: Hot & Steamy /
Your writing career is mindblowing. Roleplaying games, novels, short fiction... is there anything I'm leaving out?
Michael: Let's see. There's podcasting and screenplay writing, graphic novels as well, and computer games. Other than that, I think you hit everything.
SFRevu: Okay, well, I was batting about .500 there. It's a career many young writers would give an arm to emulate. So let's dig in and ask some questions about who you are and your journey as a writer.
1) Your latest creation is Chance Corrigan, the inventor-hero of two short stories in Steampunk'd and Hot and Steamy, the newest anthologies by Jean Rabe and Martin Greenberg. Who is Chance and what can you tell us about him?
Michael: When Jean proposed the anthology, I agreed to write a story. I told her the title would be "The Tick-tock King of the Nile". I had no idea what sort of story I'd toss under that title. When I sat down to write the story, I decided to write one of those two-fisted, pulse-pounding stories that Robert Howard and others used to write for the pulps. That meant I wanted a hero who was tough and wanted to be left alone; and that those who didn't leave him alone would pay a price. Once a writer makes those decisions, he gets to ask, "How did this guy start out?" so I built a backstory for him and Chance Corrigan was born.
It was also important to me that he tie into another universe I was developing, so he's in the 1902 of a world I'll pick up again in 1917 or so. The first of the stories in that universe should be out this fall.
SFRevu: Considering you've worked most in science fiction/space opera and epic fantasy, does steampunk offer some new challenges? Are you able to flex new writing muscles with Chance?
Michael: To be honest, the trappings of a story really don't matter. It's the nature of the characters. Chance is born of and from a steampunk universe which I've chosen to define as being a world which is petroleum poor; while at the same time being heavily influenced by the work of Nicola Tesla. In fact, I refer to this world as a Teslaverse. Lots of broadcast energy, which means there are logistical problems which must be dealt with. Steam power makes sense, and using steam or hydro to generate electricity does as well (since that's what all electrical generation tends to come down to anyway).
Chance, because he's born of this world, works solutions within it. He's big into magnetism and electro-magnets, with all that comes to suggest. It's also a world where those who have power and money want to keep it. They did him some dirt and now, after ten years, he's ready for payback. But in designing the character that way, I also had to design a world where he could function that way. It made for a lot of fun in having a world where we don't know everything, so we can discover cool stuff. And Chance is a character who can do all that.
SFRevu: He seems to be a guy on a mission, and his goals come into focus a bit more in the second story, "Chance Corrigan and the Queen of Hearts". What do you see him doing next?
Michael: Next he'll be working his way up the food chain. That might not be the next story for him, however. I could easily (and likely will) write up some of the backstories just because they can set up yet more future stuff.
SFRevu: Will Chance's adventures be serialized over several anthologies, like the film heroes of the '30s, or are you considering a novel or collection?
Michael: With the unfortunate death of Martin Greenberg, there might not be any more anthologies. That said, digital publication offers me a new venue for things. As noted above, I'll be working on a 1917 story in that world where he might not appear, but his influence will be felt. A novel is certainly possible, but I think shorter works feel right for Chance right now. I mean, I have all these great titles in a list.
SFRevu: Let's talk games. How did you get started writing for games, and what was (or is) your favorite project?
Michael: I got started in game writing back in 1977 after playing Tunnels & Trolls. I did an article for a magazine that Flying Buffalo put out and then wrote solo adventures for them. Gaming has always been an easy place for writers to break in. In terms of favorite projects, Wasteland and the Citybooks would have to rank right up there; but I tend not to pick favorites. I love something about everything I do.
SFRevu: You were also one of the early team of writers working in the Expanded Universe of Star Wars. Is there anything you'd like to share about those days, creating the ongoing adventures of Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron?
Michael: Working in the Star Wars Universe was an absolute blast. Not only did I get to contribute to the universe, but I got to work with other authors and in comics, weaving a web of characters which still has influence in the EU today (which boggles the mind). I just wanted to tell good and interesting stories, and I guess I did that. I'm very proud of I, Jedi and am amazed at how much it is valued by readers even today.
SFRevu: What do you read, watch or spend time doing that recharges your creative batteries? Your bibliography is absolutely staggering and shows that you're an extremely hard working guy—so how do you sustain yourself?
Michael: I read a lot of research books—-biographies, histories, technical books. I play soccer on weekends, go dancing once a week, have office hours in Second Life once a week, work on a podcast. The trick is this: I love what I do, so I get charged up doing it. Sure, I can get tired, but then I knock off for a couple days, shift my focus, and I'm back.
SFRevu: What is something you wish you'd known when you were starting out?
Michael: I wish I'd known how the business would go in the next forty years. And, to be honest, the information was there, I just didn't give myself the perspective to see it or process it. It may turn out that Bantam deciding it didn't want to work with me after The New World was the best break my career ever had (after getting the Star Wars work).
SFRevu: And what advice would you give to a writer that they won't get from a book or a writing workshop?
Michael: There really isn't anything that would qualify in that camp. I teach a lot of writing workshops at all the major conventions (Origins, Gencon and DragonCon) as well as locally in Phoenix, AZ. I also have a how-to write newsletter, The Secrets, which reveals a lot of this sort of information. Dragonpage Cover to Cover, a podcast which I co-host, supplies a lot of it. I blog at michaelastackpole.com. I don't hold things back because I'm not worried about someone else stealing my mojo or career. I want all writers to succeed. Only through our success do we make more folks happy using reading for their entertainment needs.
SFRevu: Finally, anything you'd like to say about any upcoming releases?
Michael: Last November I had two books out: At the Queen's Command and In Hero Years... I'm Dead. Command is the first in a fantasy trilogy which mixes the politics of the American Colonial period with dragons, magick, zombies and more. In Hero Years... I'm Dead is a digital-original, superhero-noir novel which has been selling like gangbusters from my store, for the Kindle, Nook and iPad.
On July 5, the novelization of the new Conan movie will come out, and I wrote that. I got to write the novel from which the movie was taken, putting into it all the things that never could have been done on the screen. Of Limited Loyalty, the sequel to At the Queen's Command, is scheduled to come out from Night Shade Books in October. And in August we should have Perfectly Invisible, a brand new SF-mystery story set in an alternate universe where the Twin Towers came down in 1993, Al Qaeda wiped out the leadership of the American political left in 1996, and President Newt Gingrich got an expanded Patriot Act enshrined as the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution. That will be a digital-original novel as well.
SFRevu: Wow. Just hearing about all this makes me think I need a bigger bookshelf or more storage in my iPad. Thanks for talking with us, Michael!