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Monday, April 15, 2013

#54 Michael Gonzalez

20 Questions with Mourning Goats
Michael Gonzalez

In our line of Perfect Edge Books interviews, the next up is Mr. Michael Gonzalez, author of the new novel, Angel Falls. The goat is looking forward to a lot of good stuff from this guy! 

1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"

I think of Fainting Goats, but instead of falling over, these goats get intensely, stoically sad when there’s a loud noise. 

2. You just got back from AWP, right? How was it? Meet any of your favorites while you were there?

It was pretty cool. It’s an interesting experience. Overall, it’s a bit of a boat show for MFA writing programs, but the ancillary things happening there, readings, hangouts, etc, is what made it fun for me. A lot of people seemed to be there to sell books (myself included) but there was a heavy bias towards writers, not readers. I think I’d like to give bookfairs a shot one day to see the different crowds. I got to network though, and met a lot of writers I’d only known online. My favorite thing was seeing people walk up to each other and meeting face to face for the first time. It’s a weird social thing that hasn’t truly existed prior to facebook.

3. What's it been like working with Perfect Edge Books?

Wonderful! They’re very transparent with their operation, and the whats and whens that they expect from you. I’ve heard stories from other authors lamenting that they don’t know when their book is coming out, or waiting on some mysterious round of edits or meetings, but Perfect Edge is very upfront. You know what’s needed and when, and it happens. I’ve also been pleased at the amount of input I’ve gotten in the overall process. I’ve seen other horror stories of authors getting saddled with horrible covers or jacket copy, which might mean less in the age of the eBook. Still, I feel there’s something about a book cover with “curb appeal” that could end up swaying a few people to read and share.

4. Give us a quick summary of the book, did I hear Satan isn't such a bad guy?

Angel Falls works on the premise that every religion that has existed throughout creation is true and accurate. And much like businesses in a capitalist society, some corporations thrive while others die. Lucifer is currently charged with mergers and acquisitions by the current head honcho, condemned to hell to unify all of the world’s  dead and dying religions while tormenting the souls of the damned. Thing is, he’s lazy, and not all that into cruelty. He’s allowed Hell to become a melting pot, a theme park of different cultures and beliefs, where people can spend eternity doing whatever they want. An old god awakens and finds a loophole that will grant him access to Heaven, where he plans an assassination attempt that will allow him to assume the throne. It’s up to Lucifer (with some help from a knuckle-headed Philistine, a surly waitress, and a Monkey) to do the one thing he never dreamed: save God’s life.

5. Where did the name of your site stem from, monkeywright.com?

When I was working on my playwriting MFA, several of us decided that we should have softball jerseys for a non-existent team of the playwriting department. We chose nicknames for each other. Mine stemmed from a playwriting exercise earlier in the semester where I’d envisioned a scene involving a variety show, monkey, and a condom. So I suppose I’m lucky I’m not Condomwright. I’ve always been pretty obsessed with monkeys because they’re awesome.

6. Do you have a writing schedule or just write when the mood hits?

I fight tooth and nail to maintain a writing schedule, but I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like. I should say, I’m not at the keyboard as often as I’d like. My mind never stops writing. Whether I’m jogging, driving, watching a movie, in a conversation, chances are my mind is somewhere else, moving characters around like chess pieces.

7. Can you tell us about Thunder Dome Magazine? What is it? What do you do there?

ThunderDome is a lit mag I started a few years back because the internet was severely lacking in lit mags and places for authors to publish. Is there a font for sarcasm? I’m the editor, the webmaster, the slushpile reader, the… everything, I guess. It started as a lark, sort of, just a place to really get stories going for writers I knew, and it’s grown into a much bigger thing. I subtitled the venture as A Writer’s Collective, because I like to publish multiple pieces from authors. If you publish on the Dome, you’re part of a family, so you’ll always have a place to hang your hat. Beyond short stories and poems, we’ve done multiple-week runs with authors unveiling segments of novels in progress, full novellas, chapters, interviews, whatever we can do to help further the creative process. We released our first print collection a little over a year ago, and we have two more coming this year. (shout out to the irrepressible Amanda Gowin for being my fearless co-editor on this next book).  We’re also working with authors to release short story collections, but it’s a small, slow operation.

8. It looks like you're a web production designer as well as an author, what does that entail?

That job is (mercifully) coming to an end soon. It wasn’t bad work. I essentially started doing graphics work for a company that was like a 1-800-Dentists for plastic surgeons. This meant I spent eight hours a day looking at before and after pictures of boob jobs, which isn’t nearly as entertaining as it sounds. It’s given me a pretty good eye for spotting fake boobs though, which is the most useless super power a hero can have.

9. Your novel, Angel Falls, came out on March 16th, how're sales going? Did I read you sold out for a bit?

I did! It was pretty exciting to click over to Amazon and see that they were out of stock. It’s happened a couple of times over the past week or so. It would be fun to imagine that there are thousands of copies flying through their warehouses, but I know that’s not the case. Still, movement is movement. Hopefully some of those people will remember to come back and toss a few stars my way.

10. I saw you're a writer for ManArchy Magazine, too. What's the story with that?

I joined the ManArchy crew when the magazine relaunched under the guidance of Pela Via. It’s been a kick in the Pants, getting to unleash some of my crazier thoughts. ManArchy has gone through this crazy identity not-quite-crisis while we figure out what it’s all about. A men’s interest magazine that’s not run by men, but appeals to readers and geeks instead of douchebag frat guys. Mostly I let my inner crank out to complain about TV and sports, and this reminds me I need to get back there and complain about a few more things. My last article, defending Women’s MMA, was pretty well-received in the fight community and got passed around by a few fighters and even the president of Invicta Fighting Championships (an all-female organization)!

11. It looks like you put out In Search of a City: Los Angeles in 1,000 Words, through CreateSpace, do you recommend it?

I liked the experience of using CreateSpace (and missed the step where I could list the book under ThunderDome Press). If you are a decent editor and know your way around basic design and layout, there’s no easier way to publish a book and get it out there. The next collections from TD might go a different route for printers. Small presses always have to balance cost and turnaround times. One thing that’s nice about CreateSpace is the removal of minimum print runs. Rather than having to order 100 or 1,000 books to make your book a reality, it’s entirely print-on-demand, so anyone with a few bucks can get their vision out there (for better or for worse).

12. How did you end up in LA from Cheyenne, Wyoming?

I was an Air Force brat and Cheyenne was my dad’s last station. I went to college at the University of Wyoming where I quickly attempted to set a record for changing majors (music performance to music education to small business management to theatre). I caught the writing bug late in my college career, but UW didn’t have a playwriting program at the time. Hunting down grad schools, I ended up at Southern Illinois University, home of the Salukis and binge drinking Halloween riots. I decided to go for broke after graduating. Scriptwriters need to live in LA (even in this modern telecommuting age) so I made the jump… and started writing prose upon my arrival. I’ve produced a few novels since then, Angel Falls being the first to achieve publication, but I haven’t given up on scriptwriting yet.

13. Have you been doing any readings for Angel Falls, yet? How do you like giving readings?

I had my first reading in Boston at AWP, but read from a different novel I’m working on. I felt like there was a time crunch element in Boston, so I wouldn’t have time to set up the excerpt the way I’d need to for the crowd to really “get” Angel Falls. I have some more readings coming up though, where Satan will have his say. I had to do plenty of public speaking during my time as an actor/playwright, so it’s not a big deal. I was a bit rusty in Boston I think. If I had to give a reader any advice it would be to slow down. You’re always speaking faster than you think you are. Or maybe it’s just me. No, it’s you too.

14. You're a playwright, too! What do you like/dislike about writing plays that you don't do in novels?

What I love about plays is the purity of dialogue. There’s no place for description or flowery prose when you write for the stage. Anything you want conveyed has to come through the mouth of a character. I’ve always hated flowery, over-descriptive prose in books. I don’t like passages that get bogged down on physical description unless it’s absolutely necessary, and most of the time it’s not. People should have an image in their mind of your character based on what they do and say, and aquiline noses and almond-shaped eyes rarely factor into that equation. That said, I think I can get too caught up in snappy dialogue exchanges, which get tricky to follow in a novel if you have multiple characters bantering. I’m always working to find that balance.

15. In one interview, you said that the main theme of your new book about Lucifer is Love. Do you think this is at the base of all books? Stories?

I do. It’s the best piece of advice I got from my undergrad playwriting teacher (William Missouri Downs. Look him up, learn from him, love him!). Every story is about love. Silence of the Lambs, Mein Kampf, Moulin Rouge, The Notebook, Titanic, Army of Darkness… all of these are driven in some way shape or form by love. It’s like that old saying that love and hate are two sides of the same coin. The opposite of love would really be indifference, and nobody wants to read a story about characters who have no real feelings about each other, except for Jonathan Franzen, I guess. What does your protagonist want? What stands in his way? Why does he need it NOW? All good questions to ask yourself as you write your story, and the answer always comes back to love if you dig deep enough.

16. Do you think being a photographer also helps you as a writer?

It does. Most of the time when I’m taking pictures, there’s something I’ve caught that sparks an idea or a fragment of a story in my head. Being married to a photographer, has helped me learn a lot about composition and shot selection. Your subject is only part of the story. The way you choose to shoot it says even more. Plus, photographers end up in some of the weirdest places. We took a workshop in Poland with ace photographer Gokhan Cukurova that had us breaking and entering into abandoned castles, rolling around in burned out fields, chasing nuns down the street, dodging buses… photographers are the honey badgers of life, I think. You have to be intensely aware of everything as you take a photo. Background, focus, angles, motion. As a writer, it’s the same thing. Your chapter is two people talking at a table in a restaurant, but what’s happening around them? Where did they come from? Organized chaos, all of it. Really, I think all writers studying at the college level should make a point of taking playwriting, acting, and photography classes, because they will only help sharpen the tools you use every day.

17. Speaking of photography, I've never heard of cowbird, what do you use it for? It's not just photos, right?

It’s a blogging site that I became aware of through Monica Drake. I’ve neglected it a bit, but I need to get back there. Mostly it’s a life chronicle type of site. You take a photo and post it, then add a story, be it about that photo or something else. You can also add ambient sounds under the photos. I realize this sounds like every other blog site out there, but there are ways to connect with other cowbird writers, share stories, mark stories as inspirations, etc. It’s more of a communal writing experience. It was in invite-only beta phase for a while, but maybe it’s open to the public now (checks…) ah! It’s open to the public now with paid and free options.

18. At AWP did you read any new authors, or are you currently reading any new authors you want to share with the audience?

I’m reading Craig Wallwork’s The Sound of Loneliness and Eddy Rathke’s Ash Cinema at the moment. I’m a painfully slow reader and I wish I could go through stories a lot faster. I heartily recommend both of these gents (also see Craig’s short story collection Quintessence of Dust).

19. Angel Falls is actually your 3rd book, what's going on with the first two? And you're currently working on two more? 

My first novel is, well, a first novel. It’s a decent story, and I may polish it up and try to submit it somewhere. It deals with Urban Mythology as well, some of it got absorbed into Angel Falls. My second novel, Hello, Darkness, is a crazy revenge story about a mutilated woman with no legs who goes on a drug-fueled rampage, seeking revenge on a list of ten people (I know, THAT old tale).My next two novels in the works are a near-future story set in an alternate Los Angeles and a tale of a young writer stuck in corporate drudgery who finds a way to break free and ignite a city-wide revolution of underpaid office drones. And after THAT, I plan to go back to the world of Angel Falls. My ultimate goal there is to have a tale spanning five books (three main novels and two related short story collections).  I’m also kicking around a few short film ideas to shoot with some friends, and continuing on the pitch journey for a TV show my friend and I cooked up a while back. Shoot for the moon, if you miss, you’ll still end up in the stars. Starved of oxygen and frozen, with your internal organs imploded and your mind wondering how the hell you wound up in outer space, but still, for those last few moments? Stars!

20. What's next for Michael Gonzalez?

If you find out, let me know. I need to know what to wear.

Thank you!

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