So, I met this guy at a breastfeeding class... Sounds like a good joke, eh? Actually, I was at work in the ER one day when this nurse comes up and says, "This might be kinda weird, but didn't I see you at a breastfeeding class?" Turns out our daughters share the same birthday and we were in attendance with our wives. But, the opening line of our first conversation is right in line with the sense of humor of this nurse, one Michael Haase, who is currently hard at work, writing a comedic 'Space Opera,' titled "The Madness of Mr. Butler."
With the internet, we are able to connect with creatives all over the globe, but to find a co-worker with shared creative interests is pretty cool. Mike is an excellent ER nurse, but also a great storyteller with a flair for comedy. Among a host of other creative talents, he writes - a lot. He has a fantastic poetry blog, and even had one novel in editing stages already when I invited him to participate in NaNoWrimo (a noveling challenge) back in November, where he finished another fresh novel draft. And now he has found himself soul deep into yet another novel, born of a contest in the 'Space Opera' genre on inkshares.com, where the top 3 novels in pre-order sales get published.
Writing a novel is pretty daunting, but talking to Mike about his work and progress on his current novel has been both exciting and inspirational, and I thought his story might help anyone looking to write a novel. So, I interviewed Mike to share how and why he does what he does best. If you have ever had the fleeting thought of writing a novel, I hope this interview helps to serve as inspiration.
Tell us a bit about yourself, and how you came to find your passion for writing.
I am a happy husband, father of a toddler, with another child coming soon, and an ER nurse. On the more creative side, I am a writer, poet, drawer, doodler, painter, crayon-scribbler, guitarist, drummer, and singer...all in varying degrees of expertise, with writing being what I do the best, in my opinion. Throughout my life, I have dabbled in many different forms of expression as well as many different career paths, and writing has been a mainstay throughout. From song lyrics to complete novels, I've always had a need to write. Creating something is making your physical mark on the world. When my children grow up to the point where I'm not around, they will still be able to listen to dad's recordings and read dad's stories...so, I'm here to stay. That's what I see in libraries and museums: people to meet. Writing and creating is an extension of my perspective on the world, and I just don't want to think of the state of mind I would have to be in to quit.
Presented with the challenge of writing a novel in the "Space Opera" genre, how did you first approach it?
I've had a love and appreciation for Science Fiction, but I had not actually approached it as a writer prior to entering this contest. But writing, like any craft, only improves if you keep challenging yourself. Most of my writings have been comedic/satirical in nature as of late, so I decided right off the bat to incorporate humor somehow, and my brain hit the gas pedal in that direction. I think most people associate "Space Opera" with action-focused stories. I wanted the action to be there, but I didn't want a story to be in space just for the sake of being in space. There are many Space Operas I've read that just kind of use outer space as a reason for creating new species, planets, weapons, and ships. If I were going to write a story that takes place in outer space, I wanted there to be a direct reason for why it couldn't take place on Earth...and there is, but I don't want to give too much away.
"The Madness of Mr. Butler," book cover
What sparked the idea for "The Madness of Mr. Butler"?
I've always been fascinated with how early philosophers and scientists worked with and proved the idea that the Earth is how it is. In the pre-Socrates era, it was common to believe that the Earth was flat. In the pre-Copernican era, it was common to believe that the universe revolved around the Earth. So, the setting is what hit me first. I created a world filled with people who believed that the whole thing was flat and being serviced by gods and goddesses that floated through the sky. It seemed only natural to create a main character who challenged those beliefs and fought to work against them. Thus, Mr. Thaddeus Butler was born. From there, it only seemed natural that one man trying to convince a flat, god-centered world would be considered crazy or dangerous. This was the seed I planted for growing the rest of the novel.
As you are working on this novel, how much have you planned out? Did you go into this with a good idea how it will end?
I have notebooks, drawings, and sketches on large chart paper that keep me in line. An idea pops up, I scribble it down. I get an idea of how the world is laid out, I draw it out. I have planned a linear graph with points popping up as to what general event should happen at different points of the novel, and much of it is written at this point. I knew how I wanted it to end from the very first day, and that's how I judge whether or not to proceed with a novel. So, the short answer is yes, the whole thing is planned from start to finish and the first draft is mostly completed. I'm extremely happy with how well this story is unfolding for me.
Has it changed much since you started writing?
I am more of a gardener, and less of an architect, when it comes to writing. I had a great idea of how everything in the story should go from the start, but once I started writing and allowing these characters to interact with one another, I started realizing what was and was not in their nature to do. So, I do know how a story will generally go once I begin writing, but the way it gets from the opening to its close evolves as the characters interact and I get to know them. The story has gone from simple to quite complex rather quickly on me, and I find that to be quite exciting.
What genre do you enjoy most? And, do you already have ideas on what you would like to write next?
I tend to be drawn toward satirical or comedic novels as of late, but my preference keeps evolving. If I had to name a singular book that I find to be extraordinary and influential, then I would proudly hand that trophy over to "Watership Down" by Richard Adams. His book was born of making up stories about rabbits for his own children during long car rides. They begged him to write the book. The result was a novel that transcends "children's literature," is symbolic, imaginative, and teaches real values. I do have several ideas for novels kicking around, but I have difficulty focusing on more than one project at a time. I never know where the next idea will come from. I had just finished the first draft of my last novel, a dark comedy tentatively titled "An Adventure With Dada," and I really had no idea of what I was going to write next. Suddenly, my sister texts me and says "there's this Space Opera contest I think you'd be great at." Six hours later, I have the basic outline for "The Madness of Mr. Butler."
How often do you write, normally, and what inspires you to write?
I write something daily, but not always something creative. Sometimes it's just an opinion or feeling I need to evacuate from my head. I'm still crafting the "perfect" writing schedule, but that's going to be an ongoing task until I can enjoy a full-time writing career. With a full-time job and a wife and family, I either have to write before everyone wakes up, or after everyone goes to sleep because I don't want to steal any time away from being a husband and a father. I'll wake up at 5AM some mornings and stay up until 3AM some nights. It all depends. As far as inspiration goes, creating is displaying a little bit of my soul for the world to see. For whatever reason, I see this as an appropriate thing to do. It takes practice to get it right, and I know I will some day. I treasure the experience of having a song, poem, book, or work of art that I can enjoy because it says something that relates exactly to my experience in life. I am a person who generally enjoys humor. With this in mind, I can see no better outlet for me than being as honest as possible through writing a story that is all essentially lies.
What would you say is the hardest thing about writing?
Convincing myself that I am good enough to ever have the opportunity to quit everything and do it full time. It's not for lack of trying, and I'm not down on myself or anything...I'm quite confident in my writing because I enjoy it immensely, and that will never change. I will not quit writing, ever. But, picturing someone telling me that I've done well enough as an author and that I only have to write to make a living...that seems like such a dream. That scenario is still a fiction in my life, but that doesn't mean I won't be pressing myself to make it a reality.
What cultural value do you see in writing/storytelling?
Making up stories is part of the human existence, and it always will be. We dream involuntarily, all of us. Our brains write stories as we sleep. As children, one of the first types of play is imaginary, making up stories. Writing and storytelling is a purely human experience, and I love that about it. Not a single person on this planet can escape the power of fictional stories.
What can you tell us about your writing process? Have you learned any valuable lessons along the way?
My biggest struggle is with my internal editor during a first draft. I used to begin stories, then reread what I had written the previous day, go through and correct mistakes, and then barely have enough time and energy to advance the story much further. Then I would edit the next day, and the next day, and it would be a crawl to the finish line, if I ever got there at all. What works best for me now is just to take a first draft as just that: a draft. I start, I write, I stop, I write, I stop, and so on...never looking back until the first draft is done. I allow myself to take notes while I write of things I have to go back and change as the story evolves, but I never once look back to edit during a first draft. Editing is for the second draft, and once you have a first draft, the world you created might be a bit messy, but the task of writing the story seems far less intimidating.
Are there any writers resources out there, whether books or online websites that you might recommend?
Inkshares has treated me well; it's like crowdfunding for books. I'd recommend starting with an idea or a draft to garner interest first, instead of going headlong into a contest like I have. It is an all-encompassing task to write, edit, market, network, and generally, be a rested person when you're trying to meet a funding goal on that site. I'll most likely put my next novel on there as well, but I sure as hell will have the entire thing completed first. Other than that, I'm still exploring all of the resources available to writers out there. I'm still pretty young and naive about this whole marketing thing.
Do you have any tips on writing that you could share, and even possibly on how one might work through writer's block?
Writer's block, to me, is succumbing to doubt or perfectionism. Just. Keep. Writing. Beat your idea into the ground. Get ready to cut and slash your story into terrible bloody bits once the first draft is completed. Push yourself to just write what comes to mind the most easily with the first draft and keep pushing, no matter how "bad" you think it is, because there are many peaks and valleys to traverse while writing. If you get too caught up on one detail, then the rest of the amazing details waiting in the wings will fly away as you obsess over something that, in the end, isn't permanent until it's published and released. Write like the wind and prepare to edit without mercy...just get it done.
I want to thank Mike for taking the time away from his current novel to answer my questions. And, if anyone has an interest in the 'Space Opera' genre, is looking for a good read, a new author, or just wishes to lend support, please do consider a pre-order of Michael Haase's "The Madness of Mr. Butler." You can even read the first 7 chapters right here.