Today we are chatting with Mjke Wood Acra the author of Deep Space Accountant
Tell us something unexpected about yourself!
When I’m not writing I play saxophone for big bands. A few times a year I can be found playing in pit orchestras for musicals. It’s a great way of getting in to see shows for nothing.
What novels affected you the most growing up?
As I child I mainly read science fiction short stories, from anthologies my father used to bring home from the library. Then, on a wet camping holiday in Minehead, Somerset, I went into a beach shop looking for something to read to occupy my time while I waited for the sun to come out. I bought ‘A Fall of Moondust’, by Arthur C Clarke. I must have been only ten or eleven years old, but I remember clearly everything about reading that book as though it were only yesterday. I remember where I sat, huddled in my sleeping bag against the cold. I remember the sound of the rain on the canvas. And I remember the sense of discovery, that here was what I wanted to read.
I went on to devour everything that Arthur C Clarke wrote, and I searched around for every other science fiction writer I could find.
Then, years later, a friend gave me a copy of Stephen King’s, The Dead Zone. This was another transformational moment because I saw magic in the writing. I found myself transported to another place with all the detail: the smells, the colours, the emotions. I wondered how he could do this thing. How could he give such an immersive experience using nothing more than a few squiggles of ink? And I decided that I wanted to try this form of magic myself.
Where did the idea for your current book come from?
I worked for twenty years as an accountant. You’d think this, plus a love for Science Fiction, would be the trigger for Deep Space Accountant. But that isn’t the case. The initial idea came years ago, before I even considered a career in finance. I saw a cartoon by Gary Larson: Seymour Frishberg: Accountant of the Wild Frontier. Nothing to do with SciFi but the idea tickled me, as all Gary Larson cartoons do. I thought about changing the Wild West setting to a far planet. What would be the story? I wrote the book but it wasn’t very good and I trunked it. But then, a few years ago, one of my short stories won Writers of the Future, and at the award ceremony and workshop in Los Angeles, I got advice from a lot of top writers. Short stories are fine, they said, but you need to write novels. It seemed good advice. After all, I was now reading more novel length than short form sci-fi. I thought about that first attempt at Deep Space Accountant, and realised it needed work. In fact I started from scratch. New plot, new characters, new setting. The only thing that survives from the first draft is the image of Elton D Philpotts, the accountant, standing on a ledge with his briefcase, looking out into the abyss. It was the space version of Seymour Frishberg.
Do you think you could ever run out of ideas for books?
I keep a notebook, always, and I jot down new ideas all the time. Deep Space Accountant is only the first of a series set in the Sphere if Influence. The second book is written as a first draft. The third book is outlined. Other ideas for stories in this universe are forever calling for attention. But I also have plots for many other settings, many other books.
At the same time I have written a memoir travel book under my other persona, Mike Wood (Mike with an i) called Travelling in a Box, and it’s currently doing well on Amazon. I have a sequel, and at least one further idea for this type of writing. So, run out of ideas? My bigger fear is not getting them out fast enough.
What is your routine for writing and has this method changed over the span of your career?
When I worked as an accountant I wrote in my lunch break and then in the evening. That was hard. Finding the time was difficult, and more suited to writing short stories. Since taking early retirement I write each morning for perhaps three hours, then go for a walk in the afternoon, both as a means of staying fit and as a way of ordering my thoughts. It’s not unusual, then, for me to spend another couple of hours writing in the evening. And I do this seven days a week. I have a caravan for holidays, and when I go away I take my laptop and follow the same routine. Why not? I’m doing what I love to do.
My process has also changed. I used to be a pantzer. I’d get an idea and sit down and write, often taking myself down a blind alley with nowhere to go. These days I prefer to plan. I work up a mind map with all the options, then I choose a route and flesh out the scenes in Scrivener. I make sure I have the whole book sketched in this way before I begin to write anything.
I haven’t moved away from short stories, though. I still like to write in short form from time to time, so I tend to do this between novel length books. My short fiction is regularly published in magazines and anthologies – a couple of dozen to date. One of my stories, The Last Days of Dogger City, which appeared in Analog in 2015, has been optioned for a movie, and the producers are working on a script at this moment. So with opportunities like that coming along I’m more than happy to balance my writing time between both forms.
How important is marketing and social media for you?
I enjoy Facebook and love using it to keep in touch with the rapid rate of change in the writing and technology world. I have two blogs, one for my science fiction world and the other for my caravan travels. I use Twitter when I’m out and about and want to make quick observations about things I’ve seen.
What advice would you have for other writers?
Read. Read lots of books. Read books in your own genre. Read books from other genres. Never tire of reading. Never think there is no time to read, because if you stop reading you will stop learning. Reading is just as much part of being a writer and sitting down and writing.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading a non-fiction book called The Knowledge: How to rebuild our World from Scratch, by Lewis Darnell. The premise is a question: what if society is destroyed by some non-specific means; what would be the most important pieces of knowledge we’d need to rebuild our world. It looks at areas such as how we might go about feeding ourselves without the support of our modern industrial and mechanised agricultural techniques.
I often read non-fiction as way of jump-starting the idea factory. This book is both a fascinating read – I’m learning things about our modern world I had no idea existed – and it’s a book that has triggered dozens of plot ideas for future stories.
What’s your next step?
I’m in the editing phase for The Lollipop of Influence, the second Sphere of Influence book, which should come out later this year. It will need a cover design for which I will approach the same designer who gave me Deep Space Accountant, and once I’ve massaged the words into a semi-final draft state, I’ll send it to my editor in Denver for her input. I always look forward, with nervous expectation, to seeing what suggestions she will make. This part is a two-step process. First she does a developmental edit, plus line edits. Then, when I’ve worked these through, I’ll send it back for a proof read.
The process doesn’t end their, because I like to get the book in front of a couple of beta readers before I’m ready to commit to a launch on Amazon.
My second Travelling in a Box book is also near completion. I wrote most of it doing NaNoWriMo last November so I’m itching to finish it and put it through that same editing process, and clear the decks ready for Sphere of Influence book three, which has an outline but no title yet.
Deep Space Accountant is available on Amazon here
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