Interview with Michael Puttonen

Published 2015-12-10.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I can’t honestly say what my first written story was prior to contemplating writing as a career, but I still have a copy (typed using an old manual typewriter) of the first story I wrote as an assignment for the Institute of Children’s Literature, which I had enrolled in with the hope of learning how to write for young children. I had dreams (fantasies?) of becoming the next Dr. Seuss. I had no prior writing experience and it showed. My wonderful instructor, author Ethel Gorham, was patient and understanding. Over the next year, she guided me to become a more competent writer, though I still had considerable room for improvement by course’s end.

I titled my first assigned story "Second Best." Students had to write a short story featuring the objects and people shown in one of three illustrated scenes. I chose one depicting a farm scene with a young girl and slightly older boy running toward a man standing before a barn. I turned that scene into the tale of a girl with an older brother who was frustrated that she would always lose whenever they raced. Her farmer father suggested she try a competition more suited to her skills, which resulted in a jumping contest won by her. I can’t say it was a very good story. My instructor, however, pointed out my errors in a way that gave me confidence to continue, and I’m thankful I finished the course. My dream of becoming the next Dr. Seuss never happened, but I’m still writing so it all worked out, even if not as I envisioned.
What is your writing process?
My writing process normally begins with a random idea, one that might be about anything. A person’s name might pop into my head, or a location, or something more complex. If I’m smart, I’ll jot it down on paper (yes, I still use paper). I’ll put the idea aside, and later I’ll go through the ideas I’ve recorded to see if I find any worth developing further. If one strikes my fancy, I’ll often immediately find myself jotting down additional inspirations for the character or the plot.

When I feel ready to begin writing, I’ll sit at my computer and start typing. I keep my notes within reach, although sometimes they refer to scenes I know won’t come up for several more chapters. At times, I won’t have anything but an opening line or a title, and sometimes not even that. I find that simply beginning the process releases the creative imagination. Of course, some days are more productive than others are. If I can write a few hundred words, I’m happy. Some days the flow is with me and it seems effortless to write a thousand words. On other days, I struggle to finish a single paragraph. I write in the mornings and keep at it for several hours, with the time spent dependent on the ease with which the process is unfolding on that particular day. I have never been one to stick religiously to a timetable. Some writers insist you must write something every day. I can go days without even approaching the computer, and then start up where I left off. I find that a few days away from the project allows the mind to formulate new ideas. You might not even be consciously aware of this, but when you come back, the inspiration for new plot directions or characters is miraculously there.

I am astonished how often a simple idea can turn into a short story or a novel. It is almost as if the story has always been there, residing in some mystical realm, with the writer simply a vessel charged with seeing it manifested in this world.
What do you read for pleasure?
When I was young, I read everything. For years we had no television in our home, so my siblings (four sisters, three brothers) and I read everything we could get our hands on. My father seemed to have a knack for providing us with reading material. One day he purchased a set of encylopedias from a traveling salesman. I must have read every entry of interest to me in that entire set. As I grew up, I found very little that didn’t appeal to me in some way. I remember reading “The Complete Sherlock Holmes” one summer. I read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Gulliver’s Travels.” “Treasure Island” was a childhood favorite and perhaps influenced my love of action and adventure. I discovered an interest in westerns and sci-fi, reading authors from Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey to Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. I have devoured tons of popular fiction over the years. In my twenties, I became interested in what they later began calling “new age” subjects, and have and still do read extensively in that broad field. I enjoy reading biographies. Currently, I am a huge fan of Bernard Cornwell’s historical fiction novels. I’m afraid this doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I read and love to read, but hope it conveys some idea of my interests.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I am currently writing books in my “Sanyel” series, so I can best answer by describing my overall inspiration and intended direction for these novels. I have long been disturbed by the continued relegation of women to second-class status in many cultures around the world. Equality should be a given, but sadly that is not universal. My character, Sanyel, embodies that struggle for equality and respect. I have made her a catalyst for change in a world rife with inequalities, where cultures attempt to dominate others, where religious authority is exclusive to select groups. In the first book, I established Sanyel’s unique talents and her impact on her own tribe and on a portion of the world outside it. In the second, she continues to consolidate her position as a force in her expanding world, along with discovering more clues about an advanced former culture hinted at in the first book. The third reveals more about that past culture, in particular the talents of a mysterious group from that time, whose impact still resonates in Sanyel’s world.

I admit not knowing where this series will take my characters; that makes the journey both scary and fun.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The short answer is no, but I do vividly recall my school library as a place where as a beginning reader I discovered the joyous wonder of seemingly unlimited picture books. I recall finding my first Dr. Seuss books there, and I remember reading such classics as “The Little Engine That Could,” “Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel,” and “Harold and the Purple Crayon” (which totally fascinated my young imagination with its concept of drawing whatever you needed). I would say that all the first books I read from that tiny school library influenced my desire to write for children as an adult. I have fond memories of those stories. They began my love of reading, for which I am eternally grateful.
How do you approach cover design?
My previous approach to cover design was probably not one to emulate. I was designing my own covers and that, according to the experts, is rarely a good idea. I did it because of financial constraints, but I have recently gone with professionally designed covers for my novels. I've kept a couple of my early covers, for a short story and a children's book, because they still convey what I wish them to. I used graphic arts software to work out my designs. My goal with these self-made covers was to produce a scene that best conveyed to the reader what to expect from the book in as compelling a manner as I could conjure with my admittedly unenviable artistic talents. I experimented a great deal with backgrounds and images, trying to get that magical mix of tone, color, and overall composition. I didn't pay much attention to what was popular in cover styles for my genres, relying more on what felt right to me. I enjoyed the process, and as long as the result wasn't a complete embarrassment, I was happy.
What are you working on next?
The third novel in the “Sanyel” series, "Circles and Stones," has recently come out, so at some point I am sure I'll begin working on a new adventure in the series. I am also contemplating putting together a second compilation of children’s stories. I have an assortment of tales I didn’t include in “Seven and One Tales for Young Readers” that I feel would be perfect for another book.
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Books by This Author

Bones of the Gods
Series: Sanyel. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 221,050. Language: English. Published: January 28, 2019. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Fantasy » General
A bizarre vanishing has shaman Sanyel and her adventurous companions seeking answers. What they find on their increasingly perilous quest baffles and disturbs as they come closer to uncovering the strange mystery of the bones of the gods.
Circles and Stones
Series: Sanyel. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 146,580. Language: English. Published: December 15, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Fantasy » General
Tribal shaman Sanyel and her friend Izzy have agreed to help rescue a former enemy’s son from the boy’s abductor, a prominent, powerful leader. Their mission takes a strange turn when various people—both known and unknown to the rescuers—inexplicably begin to appear and then disappear before their eyes, threatening not only their mission but the very stability of the world they know.
Seven and One Tales for Young Readers
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 7,630. Language: English. Published: May 21, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Fairy tales & fables, Fiction » Children’s books » Short Stories
Eight delightful and thought-provoking stories for young readers...twin sisters battle over who can make the world a better place...a boy with no shadow learns to compensate...a cat will always be a cat, even if a king...a strange creature arrives in Farmer Frank's corn field...Grandpa knows a story or two, but how do they end? ancient tree protects a town...
Series: Sanyel, Book 2. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 106,910. Language: English. Published: March 26, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Fantasy » General
Owning a keen wit and intelligence, an ability to control animals, and following a life path unusual for a female in her male-dominated culture, sixteen-year-old Sanyel is building a reputation in her small corner of the world as a formidable adversary and ally. A former foe calls this wily, often underestimated female shaman "the Disrupter." The belligerent Cruxun will soon find out why.
A Gift For Joey
Price: Free! Words: 3,170. Language: English. Published: October 22, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Holiday » Christmas
(4.33 from 3 reviews)
Christmas short story—When a desperate act on Christmas Eve threatens to ruin Christmas for his young son, Sam Turner does not anticipate the surprising turn that will make this Christmas one to forever remember and cherish.
Series: Sanyel, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 117,230. Language: English. Published: September 25, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Fantasy » General
At fifteen, Sanyel is as good as dead. Banished by her tribe for committing an unforgivable transgression, she now faces an impossible challenge—surviving exile to a desert littered with the sun-bleached bones of all cast out before her. If she lives, a perilous new world awaits beyond the cruel sands…and a chance at redemption.