Please welcome Mike Chen to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Here and Now and Then was published on January 29, 2019 by Mira.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece of fiction you remember writing?
Mike: I drew a lot of my own fan-fic comic strips when i was a kid -- I used to draw a lot and considered going into graphic design in college. When I was about 9 or 10, the one thing I remember using sheets of paper on was a crossover fan-fic between DOS adventure game Space Quest (with intrepid janitor hero Roger Wilco) and the groundbreaking animated series Robotech (specifically, the Sentinels era). I still love both properties dearly, by the way. I even wrote a big piece for Tor about rebooting Robotech without the nasty legal entanglements of the Macross license.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Mike: Probably a hybrid. I do really like the Save the Cat beat sheet and I feel like that really rescued my early issues with structure. At the same time, writing in the moment sparks ideas that previously weren't there. So I keep a loose 3-act structure and then I try to write it out. I feel like it takes about 30k words for me to really get the character voices, and after that, things may get tweaked around so I can better understand their decisions.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Mike: Time is my biggest challenge. I have a day job and a young daughter and other hobbies (which are basically ignored now), and I still enjoy writing for geek media. That all creates a heck of a challenge. At the same time, it's forced me to become a more efficient writer and I've better understood my strengths and weaknesses regarding process.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Mike: I think the most influential piece of advice I ever got was from my creative writing teacher at UC Davis, Wendy Sheanin. She's now an executive with Simon & Schuster. At the end of the quarter, she asked if I wanted to change majors from mechanical engineering. When I said I wasn't, she told me to “keep writing.” That was obviously a major moment for me, but it's the best advice for any situation. Anytime I hit a problem I can't figure out, I put in a placeholder so I can keep writing; the issue usually resolves itself later organically.
TQ: Describe Here and Now and Then using only 5 words.
Mike: Time travel with big feels.
TQ: Tell us something about Here and Now and Then that is not found in the book description.
Mike: The book description mentions our present day and 2142 but there's also another time period in the book. When is it? You'll just have to read to find out!
TQ: What inspired you to write Here and Now and Then? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?
Mike: Sci-fi has been with me my whole life, as evidenced by my childhood fan fics. There's just something about it that gets in my blood (that's an obscure Robotech reference for the sharp-eyed long-time geeks out there). So I always think about it, but at the same time, the stories that draw me in most tend to be character stories within those settings. One of my favorite hours of sci-fi is Lower Decks from Star Trek: The Next Generation, which follows four ensigns in their everyday lives among the Enterprise crew. I love thinking about the reality among the fantastic, that's where I want to tell stories.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Here and Now and Then?
Mike: When planning my future world, I researched historical trends for names and food. I propagated this out to fill out my future world. I also looked at other SFF works and noted what they did to ground their worldbuilding efforts -- little things like methods of communication, impacts of climate change, etc.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Here and Now and Then.
Mike: The design team was Gigi Lau and Emmanuel Polanco. I couldn't have asked for more inspired work, it's striking and unique and beautiful.
TQ: In Here and Now and Then who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Mike: The hardest had to be Miranda, specifically because she's a teenage girl and I am not. My daughter is only four so she doesn't deal with the angst issues of a teen. Making sure that voice worked was a big challenge, and I had friends who write YA and/or have teenage children read early versions to make sure the voice felt authentic.
The easiest probably was Penny. I'd modeled her after actress Jenna Coleman, and I could translate her speaking affect and emotions from what I see on screen to prose probably the smoothest. I felt the same way about Idris Elba as Kin, except since he's the protagonist/POV, capturing his internal processing was more complicated.
TQ: Does Here and Now and Then touch on any social issues?
Mike: Not explicitly. However, I put specific intention in my future worldbuilding about portraying the world that I want to see for my daughter and future generations. Part of this is practical extrapolation of how much things can get socially normalized over generations, and part of this is wishful thinking.
TQ: Which question about Here and Now and Then do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Mike: What are your favorite Easter Eggs in the story?
There are a lot of Doctor Who Easter Eggs throughout the book -- the names of minor characters, locations, and protocol numbers are riffed off Doctor Who historical tidbits. But I think my favorite Easter Eggs are from the missing TCB agents in Chapter 9. Those names are based on characters/locations from Kat Howard’s books Roses & Rot and An Unkindness Of Magicians. In addition to being an amazing and award-winning writer, Kat helped me with a major revision of this manuscript (note: she’s available for hire and totally worth it) and has been one of the best authors-turned-pals in my support system. She sent me a note about how this moment made her day when she was reading the final manuscript for blurbing, and it was the least I could do to tip my hat her way. She’s simply the best in all ways.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Here and Now and Then.
“Hope. Of course. What else would a penny be to him?”
This is from the prologue and I think it sums up the entire theme of the book. The story is about holding onto hope while circumstances push and pull into extremes, and in the end, your hope comes down to the core of relationships. The penny is symbolic of that for Kin, both in the past and the future.
TQ: What's next?
Mike: My second book, a character-driven post-apocalyptic story titled A BEGINNING AT THE END, is due from Mira Books in January 2020. Six years after a global pandemic, it turns out that the End of the World was more like a big pause. Coming out of quarantine, 2 billion unsure survivors split between big cities, hippie communes, and wasteland gangs. When the father of a presumed-dead pop star announces a global search for his daughter, four lives collide: Krista, a cynical wedding planner; Moira, the ex-pop star in hiding; Rob, a widowed single father; and Sunny, his seven-year-old daughter. As their lives begin to intertwine, reports of a new outbreak send the fragile society into a panic. And when the government enacts new rules in response to the threat, long-buried secrets surface, causing Sunny to run away seeking the truth behind her mother's death. Now, Krista, Rob, and Moira must finally confront the demons of their past in order to hit the road and reunite with Sunny -- before a coastal lockdown puts the world on pause again.
I’ll be talking much more about A BEGINNING AT THE END in coming months. But first things first, we have time travelers to deal with!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery!
Here and Now and Then
MIRA, January 29, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
To save his daughter, he’ll go anywhere—and any-when…
Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in IT, trying to keep the spark in his marriage, struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Miranda. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career…as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142.
Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s after a botched mission, Kin has kept his past hidden from everyone around him, despite the increasing blackouts and memory loss affecting his time-traveler’s brain. Until one afternoon, his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late.
Their mission: return Kin to 2142, where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and where another family is waiting for him. A family he can’t remember.
Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten to destroy the agency and even history itself, his daughter’s very existence is at risk. It’ll take one final trip across time to save Miranda—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process.
A uniquely emotional genre-bending debut, Here and Now and Then captures the perfect balance of heart, playfulness, and imagination, offering an intimate glimpse into the crevices of a father’s heart and its capacity to stretch across both space and time to protect the people that mean the most.
Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter