We are lucky to sit down with fantasy author, Michael Ventrella, today. He is a busy guy with a new short story collection just released!
I was lucky to meet Michael at my first Writer’s Conference, The Write Stuff. We also attend the monthly Philly Liars Club Writer’s Coffeehouse led by author Jonathan Maberry. Visit him at: www.michaelaventrella.com
You are a successful writer, an attorney and game inventor. How do you balance all three successfully?
I like to keep busy. Unfortunately because I always have so many projects, I never seem to be able to give 100% to any of them 100% of the time. But that’s a choice I make.
Do they influence each other at all?
I think everything in one’s life influences everything else.
As an attorney, I have to think logically and be very organized. When I am writing, my plot lines tend to be similar—I plan everything out in advance and always know how it’s going to end. Because all of my stories have twist endings and surprises, I must think them through very clearly, plant the clues carefully, and then make sure there are no loopholes or mistakes along the way.
The game I run (www.AllianceLARP.com) is a live action fantasy medieval game with chapters all over the US and Canada. I’ve written plots for the game for years, and this has absolutely influenced my writing. The first two novels (ARCH ENEMIES and THE AXES OF EVIL) take place in the world of this game. I don’t use the rules of the game, but I definitely use the setting, as it has been in place for almost twenty years now and is quite organized and complex.
I know you are thrilled about your new short story collection. Tell us about it!
TALES OF FORTANNIS is a new anthology series I am editing. The first book in the series is A BARD’S EYE VIEW. These stories take place in the world of my novels. It was very interesting to see how other authors played with the world! I’m very pleased with the result and really enjoy the stories I accepted.
I have a story in there which features the characters from my novels, too.
There will be future editions, so any writers out there: Contact me!
Novel or short story? Which do you prefer to write?
I like novels. As I said, my stories have twists and surprises, and I feel that if I don’t have that, it’s a let down for my readers. That is much harder to do in a short story.
At the same time, it’s very nice to get a short story written and done in a fraction of the time it takes to do a novel.
And, as I’ve blogged about, short stories are a great way for a writer to be noticed. Someone who buys an anthology or magazine for some other reason may check out your story and then decide to learn about what else you’ve written.
But novels are fun because you can move at your own pace and do a lot more character development. In the end, the stories are all about the people, after all.
How did you get your idea for your first fantasy book “Arch Enemies”?
It was loosely based off an event I wrote for my game. Very, very, loosely. Since I have been writing in this world for years, it wasn’t that difficult to fill in the blanks.
At the core, the story is kind of a twist on the traditional fantasy plot. You know the one—the prophecy about the special kid who will grow up to be the hero because he has powers no one else has yadda yadda yadda. I started off with the thought: What if they got the wrong guy? And the plot grew from that.
How did the sequel come about?
ARCH ENEMIES ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. The main story in ARCH ENEMIES was completed, and as Terin (the main character) said to himself “Whew! I’m glad that’s over with. Now life can be calm again” something happens on the very last page, followed by the comment: “Next: THE AXES OF EVIL.”
Honestly, I had the title before I had the story all worked out, but I knew I wanted to do it.
In AXES, everyone is convinced that the hero from the first novel really is the one from the prophecy and now everyone comes to him with their prophecies, expecting him to solve them. He’s faced with three contradicting ones, as well as an impossible order from his Duke. Of course, he finds a way to solve the problem, being the clever lad he is…
This is another thing that I believe separates my fantasy from a lot of others. Terin is just a normal guy. He has no special powers or abilities. Instead of winning by beating the bad guy with a sword until he dies, Terin wins by being clever and figuring out complicated ways to solve the problem. (Not to say there aren’t battles and danger!)
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
I was absolutely clueless about how to sell a book. After I finished ARCH ENEMIES, I sent it off to publishers and agents convinced they’d love it as much as I did. I got a lot of rejection letters.
So I went back and re-read it and realized that it deserved to be rejected. It’s hard to look at your own work objectively, but I saw that although the story and characters were good, the writing itself needed improvement.
I went back and rewrote it, being very particular. By then I had already burned my bridges, so I went to the next level (independent publishers) and started at the top with Double Dragon, which is the largest independent science fiction and fantasy publisher out there. They accepted it!
I’m quite proud, actually, that my first novel was published at all. Apparently, many writers never get their first books published.
You’ve had quite the list of successful authors interviewed on your blog. How did you manage that?
Since the first book came out, I have educated myself in how the publishing industry works. I’ve attended writers’ conferences, appeared at conventions, participated in on-line conversations, and have done my best to meet other successful writers.
I’ve friended authors on Facebook whose work I liked and emailed them to ask if I can do an interview, and quite often they say yes. And sometimes people contact me with connections (which is how I was able to interview rock star Tommy James about his new book).
As someone wrote recently, there are three steps to success: Hard work, talent, and meeting the right people and not pissing them off.
What project are you working on now?
I just finished my new novel, BLOODSUCKERS. It’s about a vampire who runs for President. It takes place in the real world current day, where everyone knows there are no such things as vampires. A reporter discovers the secret and is framed for the attempted assassination of the candidate and must go into hiding. The only way he can prove his innocence is to prove that vampires do indeed exist. It’s a fast moving, action-packed thriller with lots of humor and plot twists (hey, come on – it’s a Ventrella novel, what did you expect?)
I have my editor looking it over and then I will be sending out query letters in an attempt to get an agent and major publisher. And if that doesn’t work, I’m sure Double Dragon will publish it.
What is your biggest writing challenge?
Finding enough time to write!
How has social media changed your world as a writer?
Social media is the only way to promote yourself these days. All writers need to learn how to use Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the internet. The hard part is not promoting yourself so heavily that people get tired of hearing from you.
What one marketing tip would you share with a new author?Learn social media, go to writer’s conferences, join writing groups, and learn how to be a pleasant person who others can work with. The days of the brooding author sitting at home Salinger-like are over.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Jonathan Maberry. Not because my writing is similar to his, but because I have taken courses from him, attend his writer’s meetings, and have sought him out for advice often. The man knows his business!
Any thoughts on traditional vs. e-publishing?
I have no control over either! I just want people to read my books; I don’t care how they do so.
What upcoming events can we meet up in person?
I am a regular at Sf conventions here on the east coast. The next one (as of this writing) is Balticon at the end of May. I also attend Lunacon, Arisia, Philcon, Ravencon and Albacon fairly regularly.
You can get my schedule (as well as find a link for my blog and links for my books) on my web page: www.MichaelAVentrella.com