Interview with Michael Rizzo

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, surrounded by desert hills that I'd disappear into to get away from home stress, be alone and spin stories in my head. The wide-open desert inspired the setting for the God Mars series, and my old neighborhood and favorite hiking spot appear in Grayman Book Three. (Of course, I fled to the opposite--the rich green forests of the Pacific Northwest--as soon as I had the chance.)
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
First book I ever read, five years old: Gulliver's Travels. Really. (Followed by The Tales of King Arthur, written in Olde English.) Classic adventure, fantastic worlds (and pretty adult stuff). My parents got me a subscription to a scholastic book-of-the-month, and it was all classic adventure lit. I learned a lot about storytelling from those books, and a lot about writing, style, plot.
Who are your favorite authors?
Classic scifi and modern graphic novelists: Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, Ben Bova, Alfred Bester, Phillip K Dick, William Gibson, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Alan Moore--too many to name. I spent my summers growing up with paperbacks and comic books.
When did you first start writing?
Officially at 13 (1975), scoring my first writing awards in high school. My first stories were super-pulpy sci-fi action with too-cool perfect heroes and comic book villains. My first five novels and two-dozen shorts were in ball point pen on notebook paper. I actually still use those characters and some of those early story lines to this day in both my series, but it's all gotten much darker with age and with the times. No more perfect heroes, no more moral clarity.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Oh yeah. Mike Ram versus aliens. Seriously. Five part series of novellas, hand written (in cursive, no less). I was 13. Awful stuff. But it marked the first appearances of many of my current characters: Mike Ram, Matt Burke, Lisa Ava, Rick Mann, Doc Becker, Amber Parry, Dave Manning...
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Sixty rejections. Some came with high praise and great advice, but the agents were insisting that anything over 90,000 words wouldn't sell. (This is funny, because when I queried an early novel back in 1990, it was 90K words, and the publishers told me it was way too short.) Then a good friend told me about Smashwords. Now I can at least get my work read, get it out there (beyond my small circle of draft readers), and hopefully get something bigger going.
What is your writing process?
Plot it out (first in my head, then on page). Write down any particular details I think I want. Research. Start writing. Have it turn out completely different. (If it's working, the characters write themselves.) Go back every chapter or so and edit/rewrite (so it comes out in chunks). Push through until I hit a wall (stopping and setting it aside is a killer). Fix bits that are bugging me. Do a full read-through. Let it sit a few days. Do another read-through (preferably hard-copy--it reads differently on paper). Find some willing victims to inflict it on for feedback and to find errors I missed. Settle on the final version. Format. Somewhere in there obsess over the cover. Publish. Then start writing the next one because I get antsy fast with nothing to work on.

I write when I can, usually with my laptop, sitting wherever. Best times are early AM and late nights, though I ocassionally score a day off to do some serious work.

Self-publishing is a real boon to the process, because I know I can just get it done and get it out, and not sweat months to years in submissions. (Thank you, Smashwords!)
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Working (I still have a demanding career in social work). Doing artwork (a lot of it for the books). Spending time with my children. Cooking (and eating good food). Watching a few favorite shows. Some martial endeavors (usually involving firearms these days). Not much sleeping.
How do you approach cover design?
I'm basically teaching myself as I go: What works best, what colors and fonts. I've so far concluded that red or light lettering on a dark background jumps out best in thumbnail size. And my busier covers didn't show well small, so now I go for a simpler iconic image rather than try to portray an actual scene in detail. In that, I think my God Mars covers work the best: single central subject that shocks a bit, makes the viewer go "What's that about?"
What's the story behind your God Mars series?
The God Mars series is based on stories I've been stewing since I was a teen, inspired by what I loved: pulp science fiction and comics, as well as some classic movies and TV shows from decades ago: Fantastic worlds, colorful characters, new cultures, big action, suspense. It's also got aspects of a series I started back in high school and college, about a world where humans become immortal and godlike through technology, so you've got that morality tale underneath it all. (The rather confusing title "The God Mars" is a play on words, like the Bike Shop or the Cowboy Bar--it's a Mars full of flawed humans with godlike powers.) Originally set up as a long ongoing serial with multiple parallel story lines and a massive cast (and mostly for my own enjoyment--I had no intention of publishing any of this), I'm condensing it into hopefully-coherent novels.

The God Mars series also shares characters and backstory with the Grayman series--the much darker work I started around the same time but actually intended for publishing. And while I will probably write more Grayman books, they are exhausting in their intensity, demanding in their detail, and take twice as long (or more) to write. God Mars books are, conversely, a blast to write, apparently (according to reader feedback) a lot more fun to read (and you don't need therapy afterwards), and my research probably gets less attention from Homeland Security (though I did just have to study nuclear weapon design and yield).
What was the inspiration for the Grayman series?
Grayman is a commentary on action heroes, and has evolved over the years as our cultural perceptions have. It started with perfect heroes taking on big evil, but the world isn't that simple anymore. So my heroes are now flawed, scarred, damaged, morally ambiguous, and they can't just walk away from the damage they do with a flashy grin and a snappy one-liner. And my villains are also more human. (It helps that I made a career in psychology.)

It also started with the Munich Olympics. Even then--as a kid--I could see the future, the wars we would be fighting and the enemies we would be facing. So I created an international team of perfect heroes with fancy new weapons to fight a dirty new war, and in the process, I accidentally predicted a lot of what we're dealing with today (it's just not so shiny as I expected). For instance, way back in the '70s, the stories were criticized because they portayed a world where civil and human rights were suspended in order to pursue the enemy--because that would never happen, we would never allow it to happen. What I could never have imagined is that it would come to be called the Patriot Act.
What are you working on next?
While the formal Grayman series is done, there are other stories to tell in that world, both during and after the events in that narrative. But for now, I'm focused on finishing another God Mars book (or three). It's a much more fun series to work on, and I've been meaning to get those stories out for a long time--they've been gelling since I was a teenager. Ideally, I hope to be publishing two or more new books per year. And I'm considering putting together some free "companion" books for each series with shorts, illustrations and background material. Stay tuned...
Published 2013-09-28.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The God Mars Book Seven: Earthside
Series: The God Mars. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 113,310. Language: English. Published: December 1, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Utopias & dystopias, Fiction » Science fiction » Hard sci-fi
Colonel Ram has been translocated to Earth against his will to stop the technological demon Asmodeus, who has made his own way there, intending to wreak havoc on that completely vulnerable planet. But both find an Earth that’s been changed by tragedy and social upheaval beyond anything they’d imagined. And that utopia will do anything to protect itself.
The God Mars Book Six: Valhalla I Am Coming
Series: The God Mars. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 136,830. Language: English. Published: October 23, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Utopias & dystopias, Fiction » Science fiction » Hard sci-fi
Shattered by the revelation of what the nanotech entity Yod has done to reality, Colonel Ram can’t afford to wallow in his paralyzing doubt. The technological demon Asmodeus is escalating his war against Earthside Command, with all the peoples of Mars caught in the crossfire, and there may be no force on any world capable of stopping him.
The God Mars Book Five: Onryo
Series: The God Mars. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 113,500. Language: English. Published: January 30, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Hard sci-fi, Fiction » Science fiction » Utopias & dystopias
A terrifying new nanotechnology weapon threatens the lives of everyone on Mars. An adopted Nomad finally learns the truth about where he comes from, but at devastating cost. And the technological ghost of a murdered scientist rises to seek revenge for the deaths of his wife and child.
The God Mars Book Four: Live Blades
Series: The God Mars, Book 4. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 134,250. Language: English. Published: July 14, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Utopias & dystopias, Fiction » Science fiction » Hard sci-fi
Earth’s reckless use of a nuclear weapon has threatened the lives of those living in Melas, prompting a band of Nomads to seek a new home in the more livable—and more dangerous—Coprates to the east. A young Eternal embarks on a journey to prove himself a hero. A former enemy tries to earn her place in the UN planetary forces. And a terrifying new threat arises from a world that never happened.
The God Mars Book Three: The Devil You Are
Series: The God Mars, Book 3. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 123,690. Language: English. Published: October 1, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Utopias & dystopias, Fiction » Science fiction » Hard sci-fi
As the peoples of Mars find themselves caught in an escalating war between an oppressive Earth and an apparently invincible enemy who claims to be from an alternate future, Colonel Ram awakens to find that he has been remade into an immortal superhuman in order to try to save all that he holds dear. But those he would help are terrified of what he’s become. And he’s not the only one of his kind…
Grayman Book Five: The Ragnarok
Series: Grayman, Book 5. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 130,260. Language: English. Published: September 23, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense, Fiction » Science fiction » Military
Mike Ram must deal with a sadistic assassin and a secret army tasked to protect the conspiracy that has been manipulating the War on Terror, while he attempts to reveal the real masterminds behind it.
Grayman Book Four: Scary Monsters
Series: Grayman, Book 4. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 148,490. Language: English. Published: August 15, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense, Fiction » Science fiction » Military
Mike Ram has been missing for six months, but the Grayman hasn’t been idle. Now, heroes and villains must work together to bring down a conspiracy that has been manipulating both sides of the War on Terror for power and profit, knowing that their actions will likely destroy them as well.
The God Mars Book Two: Lost Worlds
Series: The God Mars, Book 2. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 113,070. Language: English. Published: March 29, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Hard sci-fi, Fiction » Science fiction » Utopias & dystopias
The marooned UN survivors continue to try to establish peaceful relations with the competing factions on Mars, a challenge that becomes more urgent when a radically changed Earth finally does answer their distress calls. Because Earth does fear what’s happened on Mars, perhaps enough to attempt once again to destroy all life on the surface.
Grayman Book Three: Vulnerability
Series: Grayman, Book 3. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 170,120. Language: English. Published: March 5, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense, Fiction » Science fiction » Military
In the most intense Grayman yet, a terrorist mastermind holds the world hostage with a technology-destroying weapon, forcing Mike Ram into an odyssey of horror toward a devastating realization. Meanwhile, the omnipresent AI “Dee” is showing more and more independent initiative in pursuing its primary directive…
Grayman Book Two: The Ratings War
Series: Grayman, Book 2. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 108,110. Language: English. Published: February 16, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense, Fiction » Science fiction » Military
The newly-activated multinational counter-terror force begins global operations, and Mike Ram’s fame grows with every staged act of violence. Initially a stunning success, “Operation: Safe for Democracy” is soon challenged by a new terrorist leader who rises to resist them in spectacular fashion.
The God Mars Book One: CROATOAN
Series: The God Mars, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 129,850. Language: English. Published: January 30, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Hard sci-fi, Fiction » Science fiction » Utopias & dystopias
The survivors of a nuclear disaster on Mars awaken after a half-century in chemical hibernation, and try to unravel the mystery of why no rescue has come for them. Attempts to contact Earth fail, and they begin to encounter the descendants of other survivors...
Grayman Book One: Acts of War
Series: Grayman, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 110,790. Language: English. Published: January 30, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense, Fiction » Science fiction » Military
The enigmatic “Grayman” has been killing known terrorists throughout Europe in spectacularly brutal fashion. Captured by Coalition forces, he is recruited by a joint military and intelligence project to create the ultimate counter-terror force, only to find himself being carefully groomed into something unthinkable: a popular hero.