Nathan‘s Interview with Michael Michel
As part of my stop on the Escapist Co. Book Tour of The Price of Power, I had the amazing opportunity to ask Michael Michel about his book! This interview is spoiler-free and you can check out my review of The Price of Power here.
Can you give readers a quick elevator pitch for your book?
The Price of Power is about loss, redemption, grief, and the dangers of belief. It’s kind of like Game of Thrones meets X-Men but without the incest, or First Law with a spiritual edge and a lot more plot. For those who love gritty heroes, violence with a muddy-bootheel-feel, psychedelic horror, and badass ladies, in addition to all the classic stuff–big burly fellas with swords and impending doom and all that–you should read this!
What kinds of readers would be interested in The Price of Power?
So far, fans of Game of Thrones and Joe Abercrombie top the list. Half set up (what 5 book epic fantasy isn’t though), half explosive and climactic ending. If you like hard magic systems, Gary Stues and Mary Sues (those vanilla characters who can do no wrong), and minimal cursing, then this probably won’t be for you. These characters struggle with addiction, a need to belong, secreted betrayals, and suicidality–dark topics one and all. There’s a good deal of psychedelic horror too that many will enjoy. For those psychonauts out there, I’d be interested to see what you think!
All that said, I’ve seen people of all types love it. A YA author put it in her top five books of the year, so clearly it can cross the barriers of genre for some folk. It gets labeled as grimdark a lot, but I’ve seen debates on this and can’t say I could take a side confidently.
Pretty much, just try it!
What inspired you to write The Price of Power?
Well you see, it was just me and my lawnmower…
No seriously. I was mowing the lawn in 7th grade and thought, “Catastrophe Knights (mispronounced in my 7th grade brain, btw) that’s such a cool name for a thing!” I started turning it into a world in my head and then just couldn’t stop. Gods, governments, religions, cultures, heroes, villains, notes on notes on notes of it. Looking back, I can’t believe I actually got to the point of publication. I thought that pehaps when I was 50 something, I would finally do it. But then I started thinking about dying and realized no one would finish it for me if that happened, so I better get on it.
Who are your biggest influences?
George R. R. Martin inspired me to start taking creative writing classes in college. Shortly after that, I joined a critique group of no small pedigree called the Wordos. They’re home to authors who have won a World Fantasy Award, a Nebula Award, and over a dozen Writers of the Future winners. While participating in that amazing group honed my craft at the sentence/structural level, writing novels is a different beast; you really have to pull from personal experience and the story of life at large. What you read is a good start.
I dove into Game of Thrones and R. Scott Bakker, and started working my way down the greatest SFF of all time list. Reading Ted Chiang, Frederick Pohl, and Walter M. Miller Jr. showed me the meaningful depths that could be explored through the genre. It wasn’t just pulpy trash–huzzah! SFF could be impactful and literary if it focused on characters.
Right now, I’m gleaning a lot of inspiration from Richard K. Morgan who does what I’ve just described, quite well. After talking with a friend about my MC, Barodane Ironlight, he suggested I read The Steel Remains. I must say, there are some clear correlations between the Mad Prince and Ringil Eskiath.
Your book has many different POVs. Did you have a particular POV that you enjoyed writing?
Barodane flows easiest for me, and his cynical humor is very fun. I loved doing Garlenna’s scenes too. I’ve always had a thing for badass spies and she’s a damn good one. The language and style of Akyris’s grandmother was a blast as well. I have a whole other series written in a similar fashion, but that’s a long way off still.
Did you have a non-POV character who was a particular favorite?
The Omenfaen twins were such a great surprise when they emerged from the ether. The Madness is obviously a fan favorite, and mine as well. He’s hard to beat in terms of unique voice and entertainment value (while also being terrifying).
Several of the POVs in your book do not directly intersect with one another. Did you find that challenging to plot?
Given that not a ton of storylines are intersecting in book one, it was certainly less challenging to plot than future books will be. Since each characters is a self contained story, with subtle overlaps and references, it flowed pretty well. There actually used to be two more storylines, but you’ll see them in book 2 (1000+pages was just too much!). The two MCs I cut, wove storylines together a bit more, but the pace improved once I removed them–hard as it was.
Did you ever have concerns that you would lose readers since the main plot doesn’t quickly come into focus?
Absolutely thought I’d lose readers. I’d say that’s the biggest gripe among my 3 star reviews too, the stories feeling disparate. Here’s the thing though, the people who love it will not be disappointed. I LOVE bringing things together in stirring crescendos. A straightforward plot would just bore me to death. A massive puzzel of competing motivations, fears, and familiar relations though…that’ll be a blast all the way to the end.
At the end of the day, this is a character-driven story, so if people love that, they’ll be in for a fun ride, especially when characters start bashing together more and more.
Are you someone who carefully plots out their book or do you make it up as you go along?
A – Great questions. I’m neither plotter or pantser. I’m a dancer. I go with wherever the energy is flowing at the time. Today, I finished a Barodane chapter, wrote two sentences of a Scothean General (new character in Book Two), and then outlined six chapters for that character before returning to write an entire chapter for him.
Did you write each POV separately and then stitch them together or roughly in order as they appear in the book?
You got it. I have to write each character separate at first, and then I stitch them together. For the last two books in the series, I’m thinking this could possibly change as storylines culminate.
You have a really big world, and despite a 700+ page book you only really explore small bits of it. Is there anything that you had to edit out of your book (that you won’t use later) that you can share?
Haha. Yeah, it’s massive. Trust me when I say I’m going to explore a great deal of it. I’m just doing it piece meal so that everything is always fresh and interesting to the reader as they go along. As far as things that got cut…about a decade and a half of notes. I came up with the idea in 7th grade, and since then, there have been a ton of names, places, gods, ideas, that haven’t left my notes drawer. Maybe millions, I don’t know, haha. Entire chapters have been cut from the book as well. A kitchen woman who was like Ishoa’s mentor. A whole spy syndicate. A character named Thale who was an assasin-type that I thought would be an MC. Banished back into the void from which they came.
Your book has often been described as grimdark. What does that term mean to you and did trying to fit into (or subvert!) the grimdark “box” influence your writing at all?
I had a vague awareness that what I was writing was grimdark, solely because that’s the genre I tend to read and enjoy most. In a way, I try to subvert the genre by aiming for more meaning and purpose underneath all the gore and brain matter and suffering.
My version of grimdark aligns with the generally accepted definition: gray morality, flawed and tragic heroes, overarching despair, and punchy/violent action scenes. There’s something more important about it that a lot of people miss though. The sense of limitlessness. The ACTUAL pulse-pounding possibility that one of your fave characters could die. The icky feeling inside when someone seemingly pure does something detestable. I think that’s why I love grimdark most; it can be closer to true life. A character can go to the darkest depths and act authentically like a real human might. In other genres, readers have tidy expectations an author must meet. Not so in GD. Timmy can cuss. Jed can masturbate. Anne can cut her sister’s throat, etc. The possibilities are endless.
Now here’s also where I subvert a bit. I like there to be hope in my grimdark. I know that flies in the face of the definition, but I haven’t found the right label for my book quite yet. For now, grimdark with a ray of hope? Grimgray? Bloodbright?
Now that you have fully released the book, has your relationship with writing changed as you’ve worked on book two? Do you have a different perspective on writing now?
Only that I’m evermore desperate to do it! And that I can do it. I’ve only had one review say my prose needed some polishing. The rest are stunningly complimentary to the prose–even the 3 stars–which surprised me and really buoyed my spirit.
I’d also say I have more wisdom and understanding of what it takes to complete a book. Since I finished The Price of Power, I’ve written about a quarter million words, half of it polsihed (most of book 2, a book one in a separate series, and a 75 page novelette). I think I’m in a stable place to produce quality work for the foreseeable future and that feels dang good.
Can you tease anything about the sequel to Price of Power?
The working title is, “A Graveyard for Heroes,” and I’d say it’s fitting. There will be spy games. There will be betrayals. There will be much more on the mysterious group of Awakened known as the Dominarri. You’ll get to see Siddaia, the Arrow of Light. And we’ll get to explore a totally different country in Scothea through the eyes of the illustrious General Ikarai Valka.
I think you’re going to enjoy it…and hate it. The most thrilling chapter from book one (via beta reader feedback) got moved into book two along with one of my favorite Awakened. Plenty to look forward to.
Don’t forget to look for “War Song!” It’s coming out soon (MAY).