Tribeless Publishing recently sat down with their new author, J. Morgan Michaels to discuss his first book: Secrets the Walkers Keep. While it’s easily described as an Urban Fantasy novel, underneath the magic and mystery is a soulful story of personal development (with a healthy dose of family drama for flavor).
TRIBELESS: How did it all start?
JMM: I started writing when I was kid - like really young. I got bored easily in school and had a mom and a few teachers who pushed me to keep my mind active. I actually used to say that I’d be the youngest published author ever. (Ha - that gives you a little preview into the crazy way I think).
Life, as it often does, got in the way - and somewhere between college prep as a teenager and my “wild” early 20s, I lost touch with my writing. Then one day I was working on a really silly (and small) writing project for work and I got really into it, like more than anyone should ever get into anything like that. After it was done, I realized that I should start writing again - it was something I needed, and not writing left a serious hole in my life that couldn’t be filled any other way.
TRIBELESS: How did you come up with the story for Secrets the Walkers Keep?
JMM: I still remember the exact moment that Secrets the Walkers Keep was born. I was about 26, working a full-time job, a part-time job, and was in school trying to finish my undergraduate degree. So, naturally I thought it was a great time to start writing a novel.
Well, that’s sort of how it happened. The actual “moment” was when I was walking down an endless isle of cubicles at my second job (where I managed a call center and spent the better part of my time getting yelled at by customers). Daydreaming, and full of boredom, I ran my hands along the cube walls as I walked past them slowly. The imagination and imagery that followed was exactly how I describe the first time you see Elle’s powers in STWK. She’s a minor character (for now), and that scene is fun, but not terribly important. I kept it largely in homage to how the story emerged.
TRIBELESS: What was the most challenging part of writing Secrets the Walkers Keep?
JMM: Life. Haha. It took me about 7 years to complete the book, even though it was “done” many times before that. From the time I started it, a lot of life stuff got in the way - including going to grad school, starting a business, and countless hours in therapy working through many of the issues Hat struggles with in the book!
The other thing I’ll say is that while I read a lot about how to write a book, from a structure perspective, I really didn’t understand just how much would (or in my case, wouldn’t) fit into one story. The original outline had about 3 times as many characters and a dozen or so other major plot lines. As I got to writing it, I quickly realized it wasn’t going to work. I broke off story lines and realized I had enough for at least 3 books. Later, as the story/ies developed, that got closer to five.
And I started cutting characters. That was hard, because I have such love for each and every one of them. In fact, I’d say most of the many many edits I’ve made to the book was removing characters and their respective storylines.
TRIBELESS: Where did the inspiration for Manhattan Walker come?
JMM: I sort of started with that adage of “write what you know.” Even though I can’t move objects with my mind (yet!), Manhattan Walker is very much so me at that age (which is when I started writing him). His personality, his history, and the way he sees the world is very much like me.
TRIBELESS: What about the other characters?
Each of the Walkers is, in one way or another, inspired by someone in my family. Some people are more, or less, interesting than their character counterpart, and certainly names have been changed to protect the ridiculous. But, I have such a wide range of characters in my own life to pick from - writing the Walkers is easy.
What’s funny about the Walkers, though, is they are actually a smaller family than mine. My mom was one of 10, and her mom was one of seven. I have like 20+ first cousins and more extended family than I can count. In the book, I had to sort of merge the generations to keep the reader from going insane at the sheer size of them (imagine what my family parties are like?)
The non-family member characters are all products of their own creation, and sort of fleshed themselves out as I wrote. Getting started, and to help with their physical descriptions of their character, I pulled some pictures of actors I thought resembled them. For example, for Liv I started with a picture of Bonnie Somerville - who incidentally has an amazing voice and inspired Liv’s musical ability.
TRIBELESS: Who’s YOUR favorite character?
JMM: Liv is my favorite. No, Max is my favorite. No…oh hell...I don’t know. It’s hard to choose a favorite when I have such an affinity and close relationship with all of them. If I really had to choose, I’d say it’s Charley. Even though she hasn’t gotten a lot of face time with the readers yet, she’s just so much fun to write. She says things in a way that no other character would, she’s delightfully crass, and her relationship with Hat is really unique.
TRIBELESS: What’s next for Manhattan Walker?
JMM: A lot.
Hat has only begun to scratch the surface of magic, and all the things happening around him. The next book is under construction, and I have storylines for about five more after that. Add in an excessively large family, and a host of other dynamic people in Providence, and it’s going to take me a while to get through the whole story!