I’m back with another author interview! It’s been a few weeks since the last one, but this interview is special to me. Michael Arnold is a great guy who I know very well; he’s also an excellent poet, writer and snarky editor. We all need people like that in our lives! Anyway, he’s just released his first book, and I wanted to borrow him for a long chat about life and writing. His book is down below, go pick it up!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
My name is Michael Arnold. I go by Michael A. Arnold as a writer, because apparently that name is popular or something. There is another writer, based here in the UK, with my exact name – he publishes historical, English Civil War fiction. He’s good, from what I hear, actually. But I write poetry and nonfiction primarily, have some short stories published too, and am working on a novel.
My poetry is pretty focused on the modern countryside, myths and philosophies. But there is a bit of the apocalypse in there. Overall it’s quite somber I guess, moody, grounded in modern life. It’s not really ‘Romantic’ in both senses of the term. But, in a way, it is difficult to exactly pin it down. Writers are the worst describers of their own work, I think.
My book Processing Things is being published by Dark Myth Publications. It’s been a labour of long love.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
I guess I’m kind of weird in that I can actually answer this, even as a poet. A lot of my poems have narratives – there is a story in a lot of them. Many are drawn from memory, experiences, but some are (I’ll be honest) mostly made up. Sometimes you just write something, and a story starts to form as you go. Sometimes you have the story complete in your head, and writing it is kind of uncovering it like an archeologist. It’s quite weird, actually.
Tell the world about your current project!
With Processing Things coming out, I’m working on a collection of specifically post apocalyptic poems with my cousin, the Australian poet Luke Timms. It’s been quite a nice collaboration actually, because both of us like each other’s stuff, even though what we write is completely different from each other. He’s a lot funnier than I can be.
After that, I have a sci-fi novel that is demanding some attention, I have most of the first draft done but it has had to take a back seat. It is set in a world with a single giant city on planet Earth, and humanity is starting to colonize space, but there is a revolution on Mars going on. Or, is it? The protagonist knows that Earth’s government not only lies about a lot, it is also subtly controlling people’s lives in various ways. Think of it as a kind of cross between Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, We and Atlas Shrugged. I guess it is something like that.
Who would you say is the main character of your latest novel? And tell me a little bit about them!
Difficult to answer, in a sense it is me. Sometimes it isn’t, but that can get a little complicated. In a way, though, the whole book is one long continuous poem.
Have you been to any conventions? If so, tell me a little about them!
I’ve not been to any writing conventions. It would be cool to do. I’m supposed to go to Myth Con in California to help market the book. It’ll be strange to visit the United States, and awesome too.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Good question. Honestly, I don’t know. Writing is something I have always done in some way or another. Even when I was a child I liked making up stories, and when I saw Lord of the Rings and then read the books, that made me want to read and write fantasy stories. I even started writing a fantasy story when I was about 9 or 10 – I have always been quite an eclectic person though, and when I found horror (and specifically H.P. Lovecraft) I wrote horror stories. That was the time I found the internet, and while my old horror stories are probably pretty primitive and juvenile looking back, people seemed to enjoy them. So I kept going, taking it more and more seriously over the years, and eventually I found my way into poetry.
If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?
Florence, or at least somewhere in Italy. Florence is my favorite city on earth – I absolutely love the place. I have books about its history – and about the art and writing that came from there. Especially Dante, Petrarch, and the renaissance artists. Rome would be a good place too. Maybe the Italian air could add another kind of colour to my writing. I think it probably could.
What advice would you give new writers?
Read everything. This might sound really strange, but read something even if you aren’t interested in it. You never know. I think writers, especially new writers, have a habit of falling into one genre and sticking to it, which seems like a great shame.
Another thing I would say is try to not worry about thinking your work is good or bad. We are the worst judges of our own creations. Give yourself time, both to write and to grow as a person – get your heart broken, take a spontaneous trip somewhere, see what the world is like, and then come back with everything you’ve learned and write something you will want to read. Try to not be too good, because then you can come across as a bit pretentious and lame, instead write from your heart – sometimes magic can happen.
Also, learn a second language. You not only become much more aware of your own language’s grammar, but you also become better at writing too. It also lets you see the world in a slightly different way, and it allows you to read literature you never would have before. Sometimes reading a translation isn’t the same thing as reading the original. Who knows what the translator missed?
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding?
Well, with my sci-fi book I need to finish, inspiration came from me being very satirical over the state of the world. The ability for governments, or their potential ability at least, to change information and facts. Also, sometimes you can invent a world and it will demand to take on its own history and laws, and it is like it comes out of your unconscious or something. That is very strange.
What inspires you to write?
In a word: everything. And it could be anything. Honestly, I can’t answer this because I don’t know. Maybe deadlines, and anyone who writes for a magazine like I do knows what I’m talking about, but other than that? I haven’t got a clue.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Keeping yourself motivated to keep going with something that isn’t going the way you planned. I think if you’ve ever written anything long, like a novel or something, it is so easy to let yourself listen to your own self doubts. Don’t let that happen, ever.
What is your routine when writing, if any? If you don’t follow a routine, why not?
I don’t have a fixed routine – but I usually write at least 500 words a day, or a page or two of poetry a day. Usually in the late afternoon, or if I have a day off work then during the morning. I’ll not rest until I’ve written at least 500 words, although a lot of the time I’ll go well above that. That 500 word minimum is just to ensure I’ve written something that day. Easy goals are so good at keeping you motivated.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write in any of your books, and why?
I really like the poem ‘Purgatory’ in Processing Things. It’s the closest I’ve come to, I think, writing something with a certain emotion I keep trying to tap into, but cannot quite explain. There’s also a lot of ‘me’ in there, even though I’m not sure what all of it means (as weird as that sounds) there is also a lot of other ideas that might mean something to someone too.
Did you learn anything from writing your latest book? If so, what was it?
Honestly, more than I might even realize at this moment. Mostly how to actually write a book, and how much sheer effort it takes. It is a long journey in the dark, and a lot of the time there’s no Virgil to guide you.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
Both, annoyingly. Sometimes I just start writing and something comes out. Sometimes I’ll have a detailed plan of everything I want, and the story comes out basically that – just a few more details thrown in – nice surprises, a lot of the time I have a vague idea, and start writing it, and then it’ll go in another direction, and then I’ll be following it. And it will be a lot like the original idea, just not exactly the same thing. And that is fine, sometimes that happens. Stories, poems, whatever – the braver ones think for themselves.
If you had to give up either snacks and drinks during writing sessions, or music, which would you find more difficult to say goodbye to?
Music, hands down. I’m a very music-loving person. I don’t tend to eat or drink when I’m writing honestly, when I do it’s literally because I’m hungry (or bored) but sometimes I just cannot write without music, or a Youtube video
Which is your favourite season to write in, and why?
Autumn. It is my favorite time of year. The beauty of the dying leaves, the cold nights, the warm days – it is a wonderful time of year. It really lets the creativity come out.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
It’ll sound strange to people who don’t do it like this, but they’ll talk to me.
What are your future project(s)?
The next project I need to finish is this post apocalyptic poetry collection with my cousin. Then a sci-fi novel, and after that I have a strange fantasy world I’ve built over the years – even have made up a few languages for it. I would like to do something around that. And a second collection of poems, but that will have to wait I guess.
What is your favorite book ever written?
I have a few: The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata, The Silmarilion by J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri come immediately to mind. Another book I have to mention is Lingua Latina per se Illustrata by Hans Orberg. It is how I learned Latin, and that has opened so many doors for me, and is also a pretty ingenious book too. I sometimes will not go anywhere without it – my own copy is battered and bruised so much I need to get a new one, haha.
Who are your favorite authors?
Dante Alighieri, Robert Frost, Seamus Heaney, George Orwell, Catullus. Those are the writers I always seem to feel the need to go back to over and over. I’ve started really liking Borges recently, and I’d probably add J.R.R. Tolkien – even though I have a lot of different thoughts on different aspects of him.
What makes a good villain? What makes a good hero?
Not being cartoonish evil or good, but being complex and understandable. I don’t generally like villain and hero stories for that reason, but Andrew Ryan in BioShock is a good example of a good quality villain. Say what you like about Objectivism, at least you can see where he’s coming from even if you don’t agree with the conclusions.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to play guitar, invent languages, walk and try to be close to nature, and I am a huge film buff. I game a bit too. I also have a YouTube channel, called ‘Legitur’ – Latin for ‘It will be read’. It’s a very small one, mostly a place for short video essays and poetry readings. It is something I do in my spare time, and I quite enjoy it. I’ve also just started a Latin-language channel called ‘Latina Vivit’ meaning ‘Latin lives’ and it’s a kind of blog I guess, entirely in Latin.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
A photographer I think. Or translator. I think I would enjoy that.
Coffee or Tea? Or (exult deep breath) what other drink do you prefer, if you like neither?
Coffee. Coffee is the reason I have a degree I think.
You can travel to anywhere in the universe. Where would you go, and why?
I would travel to the center of the galaxy. I would love to see everything there, surrounded by innumerable stars – hopefully the black hole at the center of our galaxy does not get in the way of the view.
Do you have any writing blogs you recommend?
Is it bad that I don’t read any? I’m sorry I can’t answer this in terms of text blogs. In terms of literary podcasts, I very much recommend Podcast to the Curious, dedicated to the ghost story writer M.R. James, and 372 Pages We’ll Never Get Back, those guys are hilarious.
Do you have any writer friends you’d like to give a shoutout to?
Yes, Michelle Lowe, a writer of fun sci-fi and Steampunk novels, Molly Hamilton who is a fabulous writer, and you Mike. Thanks for letting me take up some of your space.
Pick any three fiction characters. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
Odysseus, just because if you get lost he’ll know what to do, Bertie Wooster because he’s funny, and Jeeves, just so he could sort everything out intelligently.
What superpower would you most like?
The ability to fly. That would be amazing.
What are two of your favorite covers of all time? (Not your own.)
Tolkien always has beautiful covers. I really like the covers Penguin has of the collections of Homer. And the Vintage cover of Robert Frost’s collected poems. I always remember that image, I love the snow.
It’s a very difficult time right now for the world. When quarantine and the pandemic eventually comes to an end, what is the first thing you would like to do?
Travel again, either to Italy or to the US, to see friends and have a grand time.
Finally, what is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
Honestly, I don’t feel like I’m worthy of having a website yet. I don’t have a Facebook page either. I am on Goodreads, though, and can be found here:
My two YouTube channels are:
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