Interview with Michael Z. Williamson

Jen: Today we welcome Michael Z. Williamson to Book Talk. Michael, will you please share a short bio with us?
Michael: I was born and raised in the UK, spent a few years in Canada, my family emigrated to the US. I spent 24 years in the US Air Force and US Army, both active duty and National Guard, and deployed for Operation Desert Fox and Operation Iraqi Freedom. I’ve been writing forever, started selling a decade ago, and started making a living at it about 4 years ago.

Jen: Tell us about Do Unto Others… and where it’s available.
Michael: It will be available in all major bookstore chains and most independent SF bookstores, and all the online retailers. Release is set for August 2010.

For this, I posited a mineral rich uninhabited star system, exploitable with space-based technology. The story starts when one company winds up with ownership of the system, and literally quadrillions of dollars in wealth. Who do you get as bodyguards when billion dollar bribes are quite feasible and cost effective?

I’m using the same characters as in Better to Beg Forgiveness…, but it’s a standalone story. They’re contract security (mercenaries, if you like), guarding the daughter of the owner of the company. There’ll be some intrigue, a lot of high-tech mining and weapons, and quite a few explosions.

Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.
Michael: I started writing at about age 7, an illustrated summary of rockets for other kids. I did quite a bit in junior high, none of it any good, of course, though the school librarian remembers me. I got quite a few letters to the editor published in Discover, Analog, local papers, Playboy, just about anywhere. I realized I had a very good hit ratio. I sold a few small articles and such starting about a decade ago, and Freehold, my first novel, in 2002.

Jen: Are there any other writers, published or not, in your family?
Michael: My wife’s a combat photographer, and supports her images with captions. She’s done some photo essays and such in military magazines and on a few sites. She’s collaborating with me on a fantasy short story. My daughter is very interested in writing and has a great command of prose and imagery, in my professional opinion, not just as her father.

Jen: Describe your writing in three words.
Michael: Anarchistic political violence.

Jen: Do you have a writing routine?
Michael: Usually late at night when everything’s quiet and I’m undistracted.

Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Michael: I have my military experience in engineering, I talked to friends who worked in one of Canada’s larger gold mines, and I have friends in Blackwater and Triple Canopy who are on personal security details. I’ve got an astronomer and a physicist I can bounce questions off if need be, but I have a pretty decent scientific background for the lay material in fiction.

Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Easiest?
Michael: Lately it’s been time, with all the other things in my life–I pay attention to my family first, and my kids are into wrestling, kung fu, medieval sword fighting, choir, Boy Scouts, etc. Then I have several projects all going at once, and my wife is full time for the National Guard/DoD as a Technician at IN State Headquarters at the moment. After that, I try very hard to make sure the details are correct, which is tougher all the time with modern science updating so fast.

Jen: What’s the most rewarding aspect?
Michael: I get to do what I love and get paid for it. I do appreciate when students and soldiers tell me I inspired them.

Jen: Where do you draw your inspiration?
Michael: The world around us is inspiration. Anything can be a story. It’s all in how you tell it, or what you extrapolate from it. I drive a lot to conventions and other events, and I find it easy to think and make oral notes while driving.

Jen: What five authors or people, from the past or present, have been important to you as an author? What question or comment have you always wanted to say to them?
Michael: Peter Hathaway Capstick’s stories of hunting game, guiding, and being a conservation officer in Africa are amazing and broadening. I wish he’d lived longer. Martin Caidin was prolific in both fiction and nonfiction, and incredibly interesting in all aspects. Rudyard Kipling was probably one of the best wordsmiths for vivid imagery and prose. I know David Drake and Larry Niven, so I’ve asked them questions on a regular basis. And of course, it’s hard to be in SF and not be influenced by Robert Heinlein. When I was in high school, long before the internet, I looked up a mailing address for him in Who’s Who, that was probably a couple of decades out of date (in CO, and he was in CA at the time, I found out later). I sent a letter with a SASE, never got a response, but didn’t get a returned letter. A few years later, he did, in fact bring Mycroft Holmes (one of his characters) back from limbo. I always wondered if I and others had motivated him to do so. I never got to ask.

Jen: What has been your highlight of your career to this point?
Michael: Having people call and request work from me–several times in the last year, which is why I’m swamped, and going to DragonCon, far out of my usual range, and finding I have a body of fans elsewhere who want to meet me, and that they’ve read all my work. It’s rather humbling. I’ve been really amazed when I get fanmail from troops on duty in the Sandbox, and I’m thrilled I can help with the boredom and frustration. I remember what it was like.

Jen: Who are some of your favorite authors and books? What are you reading now?
Michael: Pretty much nonfiction for research. I have an 8′ and a 4′ shelf, each 36″ wide, literally packed to cube and overflowing with stuff I need to read and soon. It’s everything from Roman history to Chinese bronzework to WWII histories to philosophy and a little fiction.

Jen: What’s next for you?
Michael: A sequel to my novel The Weapon, some anthologies, another couple of short stories, and a third novel with these mercenaries.

Jen: Where can you be found on the web?
Michael: www.MichaelZWilliamson.com, www.SharpPointyThings.com when I have a little free time, and I post regularly on Baen’s Bar (bar.baen.com), Zombiehunters.org (Zombie Squad is the elite zombie suppression task force. Our training and equipment are second to none. In between zombie outbreaks we try to educate people as to other disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes), ArthursHall.com (Arthur’s Hall of Viking Manliness, where flame wars are not prohibited–they’re graded), I’m a contributing editor to SurvivalBlog.com, and I have Facebook and Myspace under my name, and Twitter under mzmadmike.

Jen: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?
Michael: Well, obviously to read all my older work while waiting for the new one, but more importantly, please find something to believe in and don’t compromise.

Jen: Readers, Michael is giving away a signed set of books including Freehold, The Weapon and Contact with Chaos. To enter the drawing, you first need to leave a comment or question for Michael. Then to complete your entry, you have to either leave your email address in your comment or send a message to contests.bookblog@gmail.com. The winner of the contest will be chosen on Thursday, December 17.