Interview With Author Michelle Levigne

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

The most important thing to know when exploring the many universes of my imagination is that I write all over the place, and I write the kind of books that I want to read. I’m not going to write genres and sub-genres that are currently trendy or popular “just” because they’re popular. The conventions and tropes or characteristics of a particular genre have to interest me – and have to fit the story idea. For instance, I had an idea that was basically a man kidnaps a young woman who doesn’t know she’s his daughter, and keeps her prisoner to essentially brainwash her into running his empire his way. The easiest setting for that kind of story, without getting into a whole bunch of sticky legalities and echoing a lot of ugliness in the news/real world, was to put it in a science fiction setting. The book is TRUE CADERI, part of my Commonwealth Universe SF series.

Another for instance: I was at a writing conference, and an editor was saying that zombies were getting pretty popular, and they’d be interested in seeing zombie romances. Ummm, no, zombies do not do it for me. However, that sparked an idea about a girl who is unable to physically navigate the world, she needs to borrow bodies, putting her consciousness into them, to get help for her and her friends who are prisoners. The only bodies she can borrow are the freshly dead. I ended up putting her and a whole community of people in cold sleep, buried underground for centuries, living in a virtual reality world. That became VIRTUALLY DEAD, another Commonwealth Universe story.

When I say I write all over the place, I mean I have SF, fantasy, women’s fiction, suspense, YA, romance, semi-historical, and inspirational – and all sorts of crossover and sub-genre books among those larger categories. My first published stories were all fan fiction-related – Star Trek, Starman, Highlander, Stingray, The Phoenix, Beauty & the Beast. Fan fiction is great for learning the basics of writing fiction, because you’re playing in someone else’s playground, with the setting and characters and rules already thought out for you. Many of my early stories were sparked by a book or movie or TV show that caught my imagination, and I didn’t want the story to end, so I kept it going with “the further adventures of …” or, a book or movie or TV episode was so wretched, I knew I could do better with the same premise – and set about to prove I could!

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

My newest release, FOR SALE: WEDDING DRESS. NEVER USED, was inspired by the fact that I have an unused wedding dress hanging in my attic. I bought it when I was engaged in college. Some of the college silliness that the heroine relates actually did happen in college (chairs kidnapped from the cafeteria and held for ransom, gerbils dropped through the ceiling with garbage bag parachutes, to disrupt an event), and there are very faint echoes from my own romantic mishaps.

In another instance, I tried to write a screenplay for a TV show that I really liked in high school. The show was cancelled before I could figure out proper screenplay formatting or how to submit to the production company, but the speculation on “What if I had sold it?” became the basis for the romantic suspense novel, KILLING HIS ALTER-EGO. (Currently out of print)

Then there’s my broken semi-pseudo-superhero, Lanie Zephyr –in a wheelchair after breaking her back saving the life of one of her high school students. She does comedy on the side. All her comedy material is borrowed from my brother, who was a semi-pro comedian and is in a wheelchair. You get a lot of snarky humor from the doorknob-level view of life. Lanie and her friends are guardians of a weird little town that I describe as a combination of Roswell, Eureka, and Buffy’s Sunnyvale – but without the weird science or the vampires. The stories are part of the NEIGHBORLEE, OHIO fantasy series.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

Most stories start with something that catches my interest or attention, such as what I described earlier, a book or movie or TV show where I didn’t want the story to stop, or where I thought I could do better. I’ve had a few books that came directly from dreams. My very first published novel, HEIR OF FAXINOR, came directly from a dream where I was traveling in a medieval setting, my mother was kidnapped by bandits, and I had to get a sword and rescue her from a rocky fortress.

Other books have been written entirely on a dare, or to see if I could do it. My book about Penelope and Odysseus, THE DREAMER’S LOOM (currently out of print, but to be re-released soon, I hope!) was written because some writing friends dared me to do it. I had played with the idea for years. My steampunk series, GUARDIANS OF THE TIME STREAM, was started just because I wanted to see if I could write that genre. It was major fun! (Titles: ODESSA FREMONT, THE BLUE LOTUS SOCIETY, SANCTUARY, MUSIC IN THE NIGHT, and a short story in the “Christmas Fiction Off the Beaten Path” anthology, CRYSTAL CHRISTMAS.)

Of course, I’ve had more story ideas lately for secondary characters in well-established universes I’m already writing in. I make references to historical events or things that happen to the friends or relatives of my main characters, and – presto – I start brainstorming another book or a spin-off of that series. With the Commonwealth Universe books, I jump all over a 1,000-year span of history. Talking about something or someone in history leads to brainstorming the explanation for what happened, how technology was developed, why a planet is a radioactive wreck, now a Talent group came to be, or fled for their lives – and another Presto! A story I’m excited to write. It’s a lot of fun, and I have notes for another twenty-some Commonwealth books, beyond what has already been written. It’s really frustrating for my publisher, who wants me to write them in the chronological order of events. I’m trying … I swear, I’m trying!

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

Honestly? I don’t read reviews most of the time. Either the review sites are really slow in reading the books and reviewing them, or the people I give books to don’t post the reviews – or as happens most of the time, I just don’t think to get on the different sites, like Amazon or Goodreads and such and read the reviews. Maybe I don’t want to get depressed! <G> Arranging for reviews is important in building up readership, I know, but … dang, that’s part of the process I have a hard time figuring out. I need a promotions manager who is willing to work for ARCs and the occasional chocolate bar.

That being said, I have had some really great reviews and I appreciate the support from the reviewers, because everyone needs an ego boost from time to time!

How has your creation process improved over time?

I’ve learned to recognize when it’s too early to start writing a story, and on the other end of the process, when I’ve stashed enough notes and done enough basic worldbuilding to start writing. I carry a notebook with me everywhere, and I use the Notes function on my phone when paper isn’t available. I use OneNote to organize things, and I know I’m getting close to writing the book when I have five or six files of ideas for events and problems and people and “toys” and titles for a few books in the series, and maybe even a rough timeline. Usually at some point I go through all those notes and try to organize them into the timeline, to help me know what I need to foreshadow, what people to introduce before they have to act, what ideas to throw out because they won’t work or they contradict something else that works better, etc.

I’m a plontser, meaning I’m in between a plotter and a pantser. I had to learn to outline when I was in college and studying playwriting. The teachers would not let us get away with just winging it. That was a great help. (Thanks, Mr. Taylor!) I can start out with maybe 2 pages of a rough outline, the most important events in the thread of the plot – basically I have to know where I’m launching the story and where it’s going to end up. The rough outline gives me the freedom to go off on tangents, to “discover” characters that I didn’t know existed when I started the story, to make changes, to erase a few formerly vital steps in the story and come up with a dozen more. Wiggle room. I get to know my characters as I write the story. I get to know the landscape of the story, the universe where it takes place, as I write the story. I admire those people who have a five-page biography sheet for every character and maps of the towns and countries where their story takes place, and know what events happen in what chapter before they sit down to write. I could not do that – just the thought of being so detailed gives me hives!

That being said, now that I have an agent, I need to have a little more detail and more concrete planning when I turn in a series proposal. I can’t just write, “In Book 2 they find out why their parents vanished, and in Book 3 they get a few surprises and Sophie might fall in love – it all depends on who shows up in Book 1.” Nope, the publisher isn’t going to give me a contract without a few more details. So I’m learning to brainstorm better and be more organized and have things more nailed down before the writing even starts.

What are your plans for future books?

A lot of things I’m working on are either series out on proposal with publishers – meaning as soon as I get a contract, I need to sit down and start writing Book 2 in any one of four possible series – or I’m filling in the holes in the timelines of several series. The Commonwealth Universe is slowly getting the holes filled in, according to the historical timeline that is at my publisher’s website (www.Writers-Exchange.com) and my own website. I’m at the point in history I call the Downfall – the Central Allied Worlds are disintegrating, they’re abandoning colony planets right and left and different oppressed races are heading for unexplored space to find safety and freedom and avoid genocide. There’s a bunch of nasties who think they have the intelligence and the right to decide who is Human and who isn’t. Soon, I’ll be switching to writing about the heirs of the disintegration, picking up the pieces and learning about a lot of lost history. Then with the Neighborlee, Ohio books, I plan on re-releasing them in chronological order of events, with new cover art, and making them available in paper for the first time (my current publisher is e-book-only) and filling in some holes in the timeline. The first published books (The Divine’s Emporium stories) take place about three years AFTER the events in the most recent Neighborlee book that was published (LIVING PROOF, a Lanie Zephyr story). I seem to have a bad habit of jumping around in time with my fantasy and SF series. Mostly because as I discover new characters, I want to tell their stories too, and for me they have lives before they show up in someone else’s book.

If I just stay alive long enough to write all the books I have ideas for NOW, I’ll live another 70 years, because I’m always coming up with new ideas.

Thanks for inviting me to blather to your readers! Hope something caught your interest!

Author: NFReads.com

Read more: