Interview with Michael Selden

Published 2014-05-24.
How do you approach cover design?
The cover is designed to show some aspect of the book. For The Boy Who Ran, I used the light allegorical content from the book to design the cover. As one reader said in a review, the cover tells a part of the story.
What do you read for pleasure?
Everything. I read and write across a span of genres. The main criteria is that the book be good. I want characters that are more than superficial, plots with interesting twists, and something else, an undefinable quality in the book that tells me that the author took the time to construct a world that is complete and as interesting as the story. I want to be carried away to new places and to forget where I am.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I use a Kindle. It was the first e-reader I bought some years ago. It doesn't have a backlight and I can read in full sun or in dim lighting. I bought the oversized one because my eyes aren't the best and I like to read without using my glasses. I traveled a lot a a physicist, conducting flight testing or for some other purpose and would read a lot when not on the job. In 2009/10 I read 220 books while living in hotels—I was preparing to write the second book coming out this year, a Young Adult novel with a science fiction backstory called The Balance. Reading so many books on the road requires an e-reader.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
This a good question and I'm not 100% sure I have hit on what's best yet. I'm learning what to do. This is one of the harder aspects of the business.
Describe your desk
I have a wooden desk, it sits in the upstairs extension of my bedroom, which is a large sitting area. There is a stereo nearby and I often play music softly while writing. I use a Mac Air tied to an external monitor and keyboard, but also take the Mac Air with me and write on the road when I travel. For example, I was in Rome for 3 months this winter, researching what will be my fourth book, a supernatural thriller called DISOBEDIENCE, and I was doing revisions on the second book virtually everywhere—coffee bars, restaurants, hotels and at my friend's home.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was a military brat and grew up all over the world. I'm sure it had a strong influence on me. As a perpetually moving kid and an only chile, I had to create my own stories and worlds from a very young age. You also need to be able to adapt quickly and you meet new people and learn languages and cultures on a continuous basis.
When did you first start writing?
I wrote my first fictional short stories when I was 12. I remember writing a detective story and a science fiction—more or less—at the same time.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The book I'm revising now—The Balance—is a YA novel set in a dystopian world 170 years after a global thermonuclear war. The survivors recovered, but a new crisis emerged when the two main organizations that saved and resurrected society clashed. The main character is a teenage girl who was the product of a genetic engineering program, but she doesn't know why she's so strange. What she does know is that she needs to hide her strangeness from the theocracy that ascended to absolute power after the last conflict. I have sample chapters posted on my web site and on Wattpad.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I've always known I would write—for myself, even if I sold no books. I spent all of my effort on my work as a physicist during the 28 years that I did research and development, but always wrote short essays and fictional stories, in addition to technical papers for journals. I chose to be an independent writer to maintain control of my work. I had an offer form an agent on The Balance, but the restrictions on what publishers wanted caused me to decide to start my own publishing company. They wanted me to cut the 150K word book down to 90K words. It was too long, but arbitrary page counts are not for me. A story has a natural length, even after tightening the writing through hundreds of revisions. The story comes first.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Creating new worlds, new stories, new characters and then putting it all together. I also like the revision process, trying to get just the right words. I don't like to do the same things twice, so I write all sorts of different things.
What are you working on next?
The Balance will come out this fall—I'm working with an editor to make sure the quality is the highest I can make it. He works at Little, Brown for his day job. After The Balance, I want to get back to the science fiction story I AM—I've already written about a third of it, but set it aside to publish The Boy Who Ran.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have so many. I always liked Steinbeck and his style, but I've read so many authors that are good, too. In recent years, I read a couple of books by Stephenie Meyer—I really liked her book The Host. But its hard to single out individual writers. They all have different ways of writing. Steinbeck was so good at so many things, Hemingway had a unique style, terse. I like his books (especially The Old Man and the Sea), but I also like Jane Austen and Frank Herbert and Heinlein for science fiction. -Tolkien—well there are too many to name them all.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I like to learn new things, do things I haven't done before. That's what I do in the daytime: try to pick up new things. I write at night, after the sun's gone.
What is your writing process?
Usually a story will come to me quickly. Then I'll walk or do some physical work as I mull over the plot and then I start writing. In some cases I need to do a lot of research, but I will start the story first. For I AM, I plotted the orbit of a comet through our solar system, using Excel first, but then I picked up an astronomer's toolkit and mapped everything out, all of the catalogued objects in the solar system for every day of the story. For Disobedience, I researched the period in Rome between 1880 and 1920 and I plan to travel to Provence, France to research the next period, from 1920 until world war 2. Most of the story is set in Baltimore—I lived there for 28 years.

Once I get a draft done (that's maybe 5% of the work), then I start revising it. I revised The Boy Who Ran 200 times before I went to copy edit.
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