Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Interview with Michael R. Underwood

Please welcome Michael R. Underwood to The Qwillery! Annihilation Aria, the first novel in his new Space Opera series, is published on July 21, 2020 by Parvus Press.

Please join all of us at The Qwillery in wishing Michael a Happy Book Birthday!

TQWelcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel Annihilation Aria is published on July 21st. Over the years, what has become less challenging for you as a writer? More challenging?

MRU:  It’s gotten a bit easier for me to ride the ups and downs of publishing, but easier is not easy. It’s still an industry where getting better as a writer is no guarantee that your books will do better commercially. And that’s very discouraging. Writing books themselves have gotten easier and harder. Easier as I learn how to be more flexible in my process, responding to each book with the approach that works for it. Harder because I keep raising the bar for myself and in rising to the challenges posed to me by editors like my editor on Annihilation Aria, Kaelyn Considine. Aria is my best attempt (so far) to write a fun adventure story while adding more emotional depth and interesting worldbuilding.

TQDescribe Annihilation Aria using only 5 words.

MRU:  Space archaeology gets very complicated.

TQPlease tell us something about Annihilation Aria that is not found in the book description.

MRU:  Something I’ve already gotten positive feedback about with regards to the book is people saying they really like seeing a book with a happily-married couple in it. Max and Lahra start the novel already well into their relationship, but it’s one that is still loving and affectionate, even if they have their problems like any other couple. Being happily married myself, I wanted to help contribute to the body of works that feature established couples rather than only ever showing the meet-cute and the whirlwind romance.

TQWhich character in the Annihilation Aria was the most fun to write?

MRU:  The more time I spent developing her people’s culture, the more fun Lahra became to write. She became a way for me to play with the idea of the Warrior People, with Lahra as one of the few remaining members of her people’s warrior caste. I loved developing the worldbuilding for how she relates to the song magic of her people and her inherited quest to find and restore the lost heir.

TQAnnihilation Aria is a space opera? What makes a story a "space opera"?

MRU:  Generally, I agree with the reading of space opera as the science fiction analogue to epic fantasy. Space opera as a term riffs on horse opera, an old name for westerns. In modern science fiction, space opera has broadened to cover a wide range of science fiction, from series like The Expanse to Star Wars to Dune and many projects in between. Some space opera overlaps with military SF, some overlaps more with space fantasy (Annihilation Aria among them).

For this book, I leaned into a literal definition of space opera by having Lahra’s people use song magic, with Lahra’s battle songs featuring prominently in the actions sequences of the novel. Which made it fun and let me give the series (only one book commissioned so far) the cheeky title of “The Space Operas.” And if I get to write more books, I can give them equally fun titles like Chaos Canto or the like.

TQYour novels often (but not always) subtly pay homage to various genres and/or geekdoms. I particularly enjoy this in a novel. Will we be treated to this in Annihilation Aria?

MRUAnnihilation Aria was inspired by Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, and some other space opera series. Reviewers have talked about Aria playing with 1908s space opera tropes but with updated sensibilities, and that’s definitely the approach I took in writing it. Most of my work so far has been focused on fun, adventure storytelling but done with as much inclusivity as I can manage.

TQDoes Annihilation Aria touch on any social issues?

MRU:  When I started writing Aria in 2015, its political edge was not as sharp as the final result. Then November 2016 happened. I decided to lean into that anger at the rise of US authoritarianism instead of shying away from it. The evil empire in this book is not at all the same as Trumpism in the USA, but the book definitely became more anti-authoritarian and revolutionary. Empires and the struggle against them are fairly common in space opera, but I tried to be a bit more pointed about the details of how authoritarianism and fascism creates systems of social control by limiting free speech, limiting movement, etc. All while still crafting a novel more about adventure and heroism than oppression and tragedy.

TQWhich question about Annihilation Aria do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Made up question: Why a greatsword for Lahra’s sword of station?

MRU:  Great question! Greatswords were used as a weapon of choice by some bodyguards in renaissance Europe. A greatsword is heavier and harder to control than a longsword, but its size and strength makes it great for clearing and controlling space. I’ve studied a bit of greatsword technique from the Iberian Peninsula as well as other Iberian swordplay, and I jumped at the opportunity to showcase greatswords in this project. Plus, epic fantasy and space opera already make space for Giant Ridiculous Swords, so most of what I had to do was bring my own martial arts knowledge to it and figure out how magical/martial arts movie-ish I wanted swordplay to be in this one.

TQ Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Annihilation Aria.

Lahra Kevain sang “Sahvo’s Embrace” to her armor in the sun-soaked cargo hold. The embrace was an aria of resilience and rebirth from the epic of Zhore, sung originally by a love-struck guardian to the princess who was her charge.

The song awakened the suit, allowing her armor to repair itself using the sun’s energy. The coral-steel resonated with her voice, stitching itself back together, scalloped ridges and joints sealing and smoothing over. One by one, traces of her and Max’s last misadventure faded, and the suit returned to its optimal form.

TQWhat's next?

MRU:  I’m not the fastest writer, so I’ve been working on ways to stay connected with writers and colleagues. The past couple of years, I’ve had a lot of fun writing essays on the craft of writing and the business of publishing at my Patreon (patreon.com/michaelrunderwood). I’ve covered topics from how the pandemic may impact publishing to how sub-rights work as well as building a quick one-shot for D&D and getting from concept to page one in a new writing project. Plus it has pictures of my very cute dog Oreo.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

MRU:  Thanks so much for having me back! Debuting back in 2012 feels simultaneously like just the other day and a lifetime ago, and I really appreciate the support and chance to get to grow along with the Qwillery audience.

Annihilation Aria
The Space Operas 1
Parvus Press, July 21, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Max is cheery xeno-archeologist from Earth, stranded and trying to find a way home. Lahra is a stern warrior of a nearly extinct race searching for her people’s heir. Wheel is the couple’s cybernetic pilot running from her past and toward an unknown future.

On Wheel’s ship, the Kettle, the trio traverses the galaxy, dodging Imperial patrols and searching ancient ruins for anything they can sell. The crew of the Kettle are deeply in debt to their home base’s most powerful gangster, and she wants her money back.  

So when a dangerous, but promising job comes their way, Max, Lahra, and Wheel have little choice but to take it. However, the crew of the Kettle gets more than they bargained for when they find themselves in possession of a powerful artifact, one that puts them in the crosshairs of the Vsenk, the galaxy’s ruthless and oppressive imperial overlords. 

Max, Lahra, and Wheel are pulled into a web of galactic subterfuge, ancient alien weaponry, a secret resistance force, lost civilizations, and giant space turtles.  The Vsenk will stop at nothing to recover what the crew of the Kettle has found and Max’s brains, Lahra’s muscle, and Wheel’s skills may be all that stands between entire planets and annihilation.  

Can they evade space fascists, kick-start a rebellion, and save the galaxy all while they each try to find their own way home?

About Michael

Michael R. Underwood is the author of over twelve books, including Annihilation Aria, Born to the Blade (an epic fantasy serial), the Ree Reyes Geekomancy series and Genrenauts, a series of novellas, which was a finalist for the r/Fantasy “Stabby” Award.

Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. He holds a B.A. in Creative Mythology and in East Asian Studies from Indiana University and a M.A. in Folklore Studies from the University of Oregon.

In years past, he danced Argentine Tango and was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and studying historical martial arts. Mike has been a hobby game store clerk, a student archivist, a webmaster, a web design teacher, a bear-builder, a bookseller, an independent publishers’ representative, and more.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his wife, their dog Oreo, and an ever-growing library. He also loves geeking out with video & role-playing games, studying historical martial arts, and making pizzas from scratch. He is also a co-host on the actual play show Speculate! and a guest host on The Skiffy and Fanty Show.

Website  ~  Twitter @MikeRUnderwood  ~  Facebook


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