7 Questions With Author Micah R. Sisk
Micah R. Sisk was born to US military parents stationed abroad in West Germany (when such a place existed), but lived most of his life in suburban Frederick County, Maryland, an hour drive to both Baltimore and Washington, DC.
After flunking out of engineering in college (VA Tech), he switched his major to art and focused on landscape painting. Later, his creative expression shifted away from visual art and into music (his synthpop band opened one night for A Flock of Seagulls) and then to writing, inspired mostly by idea-driven writers such as Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and Frank Herbert.
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, Micah developed a fascination with the emerging entertainment technologies such as electronic musical instruments, audio gear, personal computers, and inevitably computer games. And of course, his livelihood ended up in a technical field, working with databases and application development, so despite his early academic failure in mechanical engineering, Micah found an outlet for his love of science and technology in writing and other creative endeavors.
Micah R. Sisk’s self-published works have thus far centered around posthuman and transhuman far-future societies where humanity has gained near-perfect control over biology and man-machine interfaces, where gender and body identity are fluid and the difference between artificial intelligence and human intelligence is blurred or intermingled. These works so far include:
- Nightbird Calling (novella)
- The Cut-Up Man: And other Posthuman Cycle Stories (collection)
- “Watching the Watcher” (short story, included in The Cut-Up Man)
- “Born Into Shadows” (short story, included in The Cut-Up Man)
In today’s interview, author Micah R. Sisk shares some valuable insight on the truths and myths around traditional publishing vs self-publishing, plotting vs pantsing, and his next book, The Thimblerig Solution. If you too are an upcoming writer, make sure you check out all the tips and tricks in The Journey From Writing To Publishing a novel.
Esther Rabbit: What’s your favorite genre as a reader and does the genre you normally read have a direct influence on your writing?
Almost exclusively I read Science Fiction because a) I like it and b) there is so much of it out there I feel I need to keep reading to know what’s already been done. However, I rarely read the newest, most popular works in the genre, choosing instead to read a smattering of works from various decades and a variety of known and unknown authors.
That’s partly because I have a natural aversion to hype and buzz, but—let’s be honest—it’s mostly because new and popular books are too expensive. An eBook for $15? Really? Sorry, I can wait until it’s half price.
Does reading SF directly influence me? Of course. Hopefully in at least this (or should that be hopefully ONLY in this): I try not to rewrite the same old story. I don’t consider myself a truly innovative writer, but do think one of my strengths is presenting innovative takes on old tropes.
I do depart from reading SF at times for my own pleasure and to take a break. When I do, I tend to reach for old mystery or detective works. Hardboiled detective stories by the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett are a real scream, and I just read my first Nero Wolfe novel by Rex Stout. The Maigret novels and short stories of George Simenon are favorites of mine, as are the humorous Rumpole stories by John Mortimer.
Also, I sometimes read scientific nonfiction just to jog the little gray cells a bit. Nothing is as mind-blowing as real physics. Fiction simply cannot compete for weird.
Esther Rabbit: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
That question gets asked a lot and I’m not sure it really matters that much. I have done both and I have done both in the same book.
My first novel (probably never to see the light of publication) was plotted tighter than any other book I’ve done. Guess what? I found myself constantly changing my outline to fit what I had written rather than the other way around.
The second novel I finished (the first one I published, PleshaCore) was a total pantser until about two-thirds of the way through when I realized I could go no further without knowing what was really going on and who the bad guy(s) was(were). I literally sat down and wrote a “What’s Really Going On” document that tied up all the loose threads neatly.
The important thing is to find a method that works for the book you’re writing. Some people find comfort in meticulous organization, but too much of that makes me feel stifled. I prefer to allow myself to be surprised. It’s quite joyous when things unfold naturally and you find yourself in a corner … only to unravel the situation in an unexpected or creative way. Bliss. (It does take a while to resolve sometimes, though.)
Esther Rabbit: Have you profiled your readers? Let’s have a look at how you imagine your target audience.
Look, I write because it’s a way of telling myself stories in an interactive way that is unavailable anywhere else except perhaps in role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. In those kinds of games—well, in the best manifestation of those kinds of games—the story is a narrative co-created by the game master and the players.
The world’s design and the creatures in it come from the game master, but the people playing in that world are the ones who decide what the characters do. They invent the story as they go along via their reactions to the world, and the consequences of their actions. When I write, I’m both game master and player. I’m having fun, and having an internal dialog with myself as I go.
As I say in a commentary for my upcoming (hopefully) book The Thimblerig Solution: “[T]he most valuable experience I gain from my books comes during the writing process. I am drawn to the dialog that arises between my literary intentions and the work’s inherent demands, the push-pull between my conscious will and the inexplicable impulses of my subconscious creative mind.”
That is to say, I’m not writing to please a set audience. I’m not looking for external validation of my worth as a writer. The act of writing IS the goal, not the public reaction to the artifact left in its wake. Yes, I’d like readers to buy and enjoy my stories, but once a story is done, I’m kind of through with it. It’s not my book anymore because the most valuable experience to be gained from it, for me, is already over.
So, no, I have not profiled my target audience other than to say it is a target of one. Me. And I hope there are like minds out there who can appreciate what I’ve done … and toss me a few shekels? Please? Book covers cost actual real world money!
Esther Rabbit: What should readers expect from your next novel?
Ah. Now there’s a question. They should be expecting a novel about obsession, manipulation, betrayal, deceit, conspiracy, and—above all—self-deception. A book set in a “seemingly near future” kinder, gentler dystopia.
A story which, on the surface, deals primarily with personal relationships and is almost devoid of the usual, flashy trappings of science fiction. No zap guns, no rocket ships, no explosions, no one gets killed. I say readers ‘should’ be expecting that because The Thimblerig Solution has been in self-editing and revision for the better part of three years. I’m just not convinced it deals effectively enough with the underlying dysfunction of its hypothetical society or how that dysfunction reflects upon the course of our real-life world.
In the meantime, I have sidestepped the issue by becoming actively involved in writing two other, much larger, books of drastically different kinds. One is my take on the old SF generation ship trope, a book that examines the cataclysm which spurs the launching of a generation ship, and follows the history of the original crew’s descendants all the way to the journey’s end thousands of years later.
As such it presents multiple shorter stories about the people of different generations, rather like the structure of Isaac Asimov’s classic history-spanning Foundation trilogy.
The second writing project I’m involved in is a real departure for me: a neo-Noir detective story (of a sort) set in the 1940s – 1950s. It involves an investigation into the apparent suicide of a famous artist in a different dimension. Yeah, it involves transdimensional travel. And jazz. (And guns and explosions and some deaths … but still no rocket ships!)
Esther Rabbit: What are some of the myths around self-publishing/ traditional publishing?
The myths are almost identical between the two. A lot of people believe self-publishing will bring them instant fame and fortune. Easy money. Just slap something together and publish.
People will instantly find your work and know you’re a genius. (Wrong.) On the traditional publishing side, a lot of people also believe their publisher will champion their career and promote their books come hell or high water. End result? Fame and fortune. (Wrong again if you fail to sell up to your publisher’s corporate standards.)
The sad reality is that both means of publishing leave the average writer with little in the way of financial success. The technological means of distribution and communicating your existence as an artist have become cheap and relatively easy to do. Which means millions of other people are doing the same thing and your work will likely get lost in the horde. So much supply, same old demand.
What’s a writer to do? Write and work really hard. Publish however you want or however you’re able. But write for the love of it and set your fame and fortune expectations low. The lower your expectations, the more pleased you’ll be if/when you end up making a ton-o-cash.
Esther Rabbit: How does a day in your author life look?
Ugh. Boring? I earn a living as an Apps System Engineer at a major U.S. bank (in the home mortgage side of the business). It’s not as impressive as it sounds. Breakfast and coffee start the day, hopefully with a bicycle ride to work (about a 5 mile ride each way).
Meetings, some coding, more meetings, more coding and bug fixes… Are you asleep yet? I’m a cube warrior with 29 years behind me, man and boy. Sometimes I manage to take a look online at the goodreads.com forums (about the only social media I indulge in at the moment).
I spend my evenings with my wife and cat, and find diversion with the usual online streaming video sites, watching videos about my other passions (electronic musical instruments, computer games, historical documentaries, some film and comedy). I have been known to do a bit of computer gaming as well, for my sins. My generation invented that stuff, you know.
But on the weekends, it’s off to the coffee shop early to get some writing, editing, and/or re-writing done; grocery shopping and then maybe some time in the kitchen working on lacto-fermentation projects like homemade yogurt, sauerkraut, or pickles. Hey, I’m just this guy.
Esther Rabbit: What would you do if you wouldn’t be writing?
This is where I quote Spinal Tap, right? “As long as there is sex and drugs, I suppose I can do without the rock and roll.”
In 2013 I found myself involved in two life (outside of my day job) consuming pastimes: writing SF stories, and building electronic music modules (as in modules for a modular synthesizer the size of a truck that gets connected up with all these wires and plugs and jacks…skip it, I grew up in the ‘70s).
No way I could sustain both of these. I ended up getting nothing done on either of them. I decided to drop the modular synth habit and dedicate my off-time to writing. So, if I wasn’t doing writing, I’d have a monster synthesizer right now and would probably be pulling out what little hair I have left trying to learn how to make/edit/upload youtube videos.
Find Micah R. Sisk here:
And, just for fun, this site has a lot of music Micah made with software synthesizers…from the gentle and sweet to the strange and bizarre.
Are you in the Writing Industry?
Shoot me an email, I’d love to interview you!
And if you’re a fan of Paranormal Romance, check out Lost in Amber:
“A new Interplanetary Alliance ambassador on an earthbound mission.
A handful of genetically altered humans to be rescued.
Meeting her changed everything.“