Interview With Author Michael Chin

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

My name is Michael Chin. I primarily write fiction. My first three books were short story collections, You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue (Duck Lake Books), Circus Folk (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle), and The Long Way Home (Cowboy Jamboree Press). My fourth book is my debut novel, My Grandfather’s an Immigrant, and So is Yours due out September 14 from Cowboy Jamboree Press.

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

As time goes on, I’ve more and more found that my real-life seeps into my fiction, less in terms of literally telling stories from my life but in the people in my life, real life situations, and personal passions informing my characters and what comes up for them. For example, The Long Way Home is set in the world of professional wrestling, which speaks to wrestling as a life-long interest handed down from my grandfather to my father to me. While My Grandfather’s an Immigrant, and So is Yours is mostly fictional, it does pull upon my own experience as the grandchild of immigrants, growing up in a pretty homogeneously white community, in addition to pulling on current events from around 2016 when the novel is mostly set.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity?

I’ve wanted to write stories since I was a child. It’s a dirty little secret that I didn’t actually like reading much when I was elementary school, but I loved telling stories. I was a shy kid, and looking back, I think storytelling on the page was how I expressed myself to the world. As I’ve grown (and have come to love reading, and to consider it a quintessential part of my creative process!), I also think of writing as how I process and develop my own understanding of the world around me.

# How do you deal with creative block?

I’m fortunate to hardly ever struggle with creative block. I keep a bank of story ideas saved on my computer (and backed up exhaustively!) and it’s both long enough and consistently growing at a faster pace than I “withdraw” ideas that I doubt I’ll ever get all the way through it. There are days when I struggle to focus on the act of writing, and on those days, I find that reading well-written work from someone else can often get my own head right to get to work.

# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

It’s hard to pick just one, but for an issue I’ve personally struggled with, over-plotting in advance can certainly be a mistake. I struggle to work on longer projects without at least a loose outline, but I’ve found that when I feel too beholden or the outline is too detailed, it often cuts off the worthwhile detours that can enrich a text and make it feel “lived-in,” which can only come up when I’m writing more freely and seeing where the characters more organically take things.

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

I don’t know that I have any real wisdom on titles beyond picking one that organically seems to fit the text. For covers, I’ve been fortunate most of my experiences have been with publishers who are fairly collaborative in selecting artwork. I learned from my first book not to be afraid to push back and work toward something I felt more satisfied with. After all, even though we’ve all heard the old adage not to judge a book by its cover, it’s still the reality some book buyers will!

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

I’m appreciative of it whenever someone devotes the time and mental energy to reading my work and responding to it. If I’m getting feedback on something during the drafting stages, I tend to look at the feedback with the best intentions–that even if a particular comment hurts my ego, it’s intended to make the work better. As for reviews of my work after it’s published, I lean toward the “no press is bad press” mindset. I’m happy someone shared their thoughts on my work, and in the worst of scenarios, I’ll know that I disagree–and perhaps that the reviewer didn’t read the work carefully enough–but remain confident in the work itself.

# How has your creation process improved over time?

When I was younger, I used to feel the need to sit and write for extended stretches and write a lot per session. Working busy office jobs out of college helped to reset my mindset, and transition toward working in shorter spurts, more regularly. Particularly now, working full time as a professor, married, and with a small child at home, I prioritize trying to work on my writing for about a half hour early in the day, just about every day when I have an active project, and I’ve found that maintaining that kind of steady momentum and progress works much better for me than waiting for a big chunk of time or for more ideal creative circumstances.

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

One of the harder experiences I had as a writer was submitting my first book. I had written most of the stories from it during my time in an MFA program, revised them extensively, and thought I’d find a publisher in no time. A year had passed without anyone biting and I decided to whip another book-length project into shape to start sending it out also, conceding that maybe I’d never publish that first collection. Lo and behold, about six months later, *both* books got picked up by separate publishers within a roughly two-week period!

# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

I aim for good art. I supposed that what “good” means probably errs more toward personal satisfaction than serving a specific audience, but I’m mindful of not settling for a story I like, but rather pushing toward work I’ll still be proud of years later, when I’m not as personally attached the story at hand or only like it because I worked hard on it. In the end, my objective is to create work that feels as fully realized, as fully imagined, and, for lack of a better word, as good as I can make it, and have faith that will be good enough for the work to interest an external audience, too.

# What role do emotions play in creativity?

I brainstorm and draft with emotion, but I do feel its important to be a little colder in editing and revision. Emotions can get me invested in a project and carry me though a draft, but emotion can also be dishonest in fooling me into think that just because I felt something, the reader will feel the same sensation. My goal is for the work to ultimately read as true, and to provoke emotion not by telling the reader how to feel, but rather ushering them toward feeling along with me.

# Do you have any creativity tricks?

Nothing earth-shattering, though I will say that for over twenty years now, I’ve been the habit of constantly taking notes and holding onto them. That used to mean compulsively carrying a pen and a few sheets of paper in my pocket so I could always write down an idea or work on a draft. Now, I almost always have my phone in arm’s reach and email myself notes as they occur to me. I find little more frustrating or discouraging than figuring out an idea I’m excited about, only to forget it for not recording it!

# What are your plans for future books?

I have quite a few projects in the works–more story collections and more novels! I’m always hesitant to talk much about a project until it’s ready for publication–largely because projects typically need room to change and grow until they reach that point–but rest assured there’s more on the way!

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

It’s a bucket list item for me to visit ever state in the US; I’ve been to 47 to date, and it’s my tentative goal to celebrate my 50th birthday by visiting my 50th state. I’m a big fan of professional wrestling, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, Christopher Nolan films, and the band Counting Crows. Despite never considering myself to be all that good at math, I was a competitive “mathlete” throughout middle school and high school.


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