As you all know (maybe, lol), I got the chance to read A Different Time a while back and ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT. I was so thrilled to find out that it will be part of this #UltimateBlogTour and since I had already posted my review back then (you can read it here), I was over the moon to be able to interview the author, Michael Hill for the tour! I came up with (quite) a few questions (couldn’t hold back!!). Here are his answers:
1. As you know from my ARC review for A Different Time, I have read the book several times and absolutely LOVE it. I find the idea of the story fabulous. Where did it come from?
My daughter had undertaken a year-long creativity challenge, to take a picture a day. When she finished the project, she gave me the book of images to look through. And as I flipped the pages, this idea popped in my head of someone finding something like this, far in the future and having a profound connection with it. I jotted down the rough details and put it in my idea folder on Evernote. A couple months later, I was taking part in a creativity sprint, and needed some ideas. So I turned that one into a short story called “What Time Is It?”; I changed the media from photographs to a videotape. But I really loved this idea of two people connecting across time. A year later, I expanded the short story into a novel, and wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2017.
2. Keith and Lindsey are both wonderful characters you just have to love. Are they (or other characters in your book) based on real people? If not, what made them come to life?
Real people inspire my characters. I use their spirit or essence to give characters an inner light and then shape a fictional creation around that.
3. Without giving away too much of the story, I think it is safe to say that the ending is very emotional. What made you write it this way?
I spent a lot of time considering how to end the book. Given the set-up, there were really only a few ways the story could go. I chose what I felt offered the most dramatic potential, and hoped what I wrote would be emotional for others. Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Well, I knew how I reacted to it.
4. In the beginning of the story, it is mentioned that Keith is having problems with his creativity. Did you ever experience something similar? Is there any advice you could give other writers suffering from it?
Yes, I have. I think it’s common. The good news is there are ways out every creative funk you can imagine. The more you learn about your craft, the more you understand the things that tripped you up. But explore all the different methods that exist to unlock creativity. We are all different, what works for one may not work for another. You need to find what’s effective for you.
5. If you could give any advice to people writing their own book for the first time, what would it be?
I would suggest they read Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. It will tell them what they need to know. It’s a fantastic book that lays out in detail everything to tackle the project of writing a book. Novels are complicated things. They have many moving parts: concept, characters, arcs, theme, story structure, and writing voice. Writers need to understand all these pieces and how they fit together.
6. Do you have something else planned? What’s coming up next?
I have a bunch of projects in various stages of development. I’m writing a screenplay adaption of A Different Time, I’m about halfway through my next novel, and have a series of children’s books about monsters planned.
7. Do you plan a book out from beginning to end or do you just have the tiniest bit of an idea and then let the characters lead you where they will?
One of my favorite writers growing up was Stephen King. So when I took writing seriously, I approached the first project the way he explained he did, in his book On Writing. That meant starting with only the barest details and diving in. It was an epic failure. I was floundering after the first hundred pages. From that point I knew I needed a framework or structure. I leave lots of room for creative discovery, but I shape out the essential beats of the story. Once I know where I’m heading, the rest falls into place.
8. After you completed the first draft of A Different Time, did it stay largely the same other than polishing and perfecting or did you throw out entire scenes and chapters and rewrote them entirely?
I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo, which ran the month of November 2017. When I finished, the word count was just north of 50K. I knew that was probably a bit light for a novel. During December I wrote several new chapters to expand the story. But the basic framework of the first draft remained in place. I eventually wrote the prologue, which was actually the last thing written. And my editor made some fantastic suggestions to improve the ending, which helped tremendously.
9. How long did it take from the initial idea until the story of Keith and Lindsey was finished?
It was about a year to complete it. The first draft took three months to finish. I spent several months revising and then sent it to my editor. That process took another month or so.
10. What writing advice would you give your younger self?
I wish I had taken it seriously much sooner. I spent a lot of time chasing other things. But now I believe I’ve found my calling, and I guess that’s all that matters.
11. Some authors take a notebook with them wherever they go, in case a sudden flash of inspiration hits them. Are you one of them?
I’m constantly making notes and I used to write everything in notebooks. In fact I still have hundreds of them stashed away in storage. But it was a totally ineffective way to work. I couldn’t find anything I was looking for. Thankfully digital technology arrived to solve the problem. I use an app called Evernote to organize all my writing. I have folders for each project, folders with story ideas, character sketches, interesting locations, props, you name it. And now I can find everything with a simple search. The app runs on my phone, my tablet, my laptop, and my home writing PC. It’s fantastic. I’d be lost without it.
12. Writing with pen and paper or the computer?
Originally everything I did was written by hand. I had read a study that concluded writing by hand makes a better connection in the brain with the material, than just typing does. However, I have abandoned handwriting completely. Everything now is digital. It’s just more efficient for me.
13. Do you ever get up at night to write? Did you ever get an idea based on a dream?
I have. The scene in the novel between Keith and Phyllis came to me in the middle of the night, and I had to write it down immediately. But dreams rarely provide me with ideas.
14. How do you select the names of your characters? Are they just names that appeal to you, did you look them up and do they have special, hidden meanings?
When I’m writing short stories, names can come from many sources. I keep a database culled from baby naming books. Sometimes a name jumps out at me, other times I have to hunt for it. But with my novel, I didn’t know if it would be my only chance to write one, so I chose names that had significance for me, based on family, friends, and mentors.
15. Are any hidden secret messages hidden in the book, things that only you and your family (or friends) would get? If so, would you reveal one?
Yes, for example, the electronic repair technician that Keith takes his VCR to is basically my dad. I did things like that with several of the supporting characters.
16. In the story, Keith’s favourite childhood story is highlighted. What is your favourite book from your childhood, and are there any that influenced and shaped you as a writer?
I can’t just pick one. My two favorites were And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss, and Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Both of those books opened my mind to the full power of imagination at a very young age. In one way or another, they’ve influenced everything.
17. What is your favorite literary classic? If you could meet the author for one day, would you? And what would you ask / say?
I absolutely love Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The way he used different literary methods to convey the story—captain’s log, doctor’s notes, journals—it’s creepy and genius. It would be wonderful to hear him describe the process he used to create it.
18. Any other favourite authors, maybe some contemporaries? If so, what makes them so special for you?
Ray Bradbury is my favorite. He brought a joy and creativity to the art that in my opinion has never been equaled. I’ve read almost everything from Stephen King, Poe, Lovecraft. I love Neil Gaiman, Elmore Leonard, Asimov, George R.R. Martin, Tolkien, Maya Angelou, David Foster Wallace, there are so many. Some new and current writers I enjoy include Richard Kadrey, John Brantingham, Stephanie Barbé Hammer, and Philip Elliot.
19. Are you a reader as well as a writer? What’s your latest favourite?
Yes, very much so. This summer my executive assistant introduced me to the magnificence of Oscar Wilde, and now The Importance of Being Earnest is an all-time favorite. I don’t know how I could have remained ignorant of his work for so long. Thankfully, I hired a smart assistant.
20. Do you have a favourite literary trope?
Ever since I first read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, I have been a sucker for a good haunted house story. Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, King’s The Shining, I love them all.
21. I have read somewhere that you should write the book you want to read. What kind of book would you like to read next?
My current novel is a family drama, but the book waiting in the wings, is a return to my horror roots. I think that’s where I am headed next.
22. What does writing mean to you? If you didn’t write, what else would you do for work?
It means a way to escape the confines of reality and explore my imagination. It’s a bit like therapy I guess. If I didn’t have this, I would probably be chasing some other way to release my creativity.
23. You have to stay on a desert island forever but are allowed to take three personal items with you – what would they be, and why?
I’;d choose a copy of The Stories of Ray Bradbury, my dog, and something to write with. I think I’d be all right with that.
And that’s it! Thank you so much for answering my questions, Michael! And thank you guys for reading!
Michael K. Hill Bio
Beginning as a sketch comedy writer for American television, Michael K. Hill
progressed to become an internationally published writer of fiction and non-fiction.
His short story anthology, Anansi and Beyond, published in 2017, and his debut
novel, A Different Time, is available now. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, kids,
and 7 rescued animals.
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Thank you so much for reading!