Friday, April 19, 2013

Michael Findley Interview, LLC

So, this is the book cover now. When I first
got my mitts on a copy, it featured the same
girl but a DIFFERENT guy! Pretty fishy if you
ask me. Do you think the guy is the Doctor?

I read Nehemiah, LLC based on a recommendation from author Mary C. Findley. She happens to be married to the author, Michael Findley. This is actually the second interview I’ve conducted with someone close to Mary, as Sophronia Belle Lyon, the author of the very enjoyable steampunk literary tribute A Dodge, A Twist and a Tobacconist, whom I once traveled years into the past to interview, is Mary’s grandmother. What I’m trying to say is that there is some serious nepotism at play here, and we should all be very suspicious. At the end of the day, I didn’t pick a Michael Findley novel because he’s the author of books such as Empire Saga, Sojourner or Antidisestablishmentarianism: Disestablishing America’s Established Religion (a title I need to send off to my old theatre professor so he can use it as a tongue twister with his students). I didn’t pick it up because I enjoy the Elk Jerky for the Soul blog, which he runs with his honey bear. These would have been perfectly legitimate reasons, but, no, I read Nehemiah, LLC because Michael’s beaming bride suggested it to me. It’s like I said. It’s suspicious.

So I started reading this book and, let me tell you the truth, at first I wondered if I had made a mistake. The foreword scared me, as the author explained that this was the third book in a series of six (currently), and that “there is no attempt to explain things in Nehemiah, LLC which are explained in detail in other works.” It works even better if you imagine it in a grumpy voice and follow it up with, “And get off my lawn!” So I was nervous. I retorted that I was recommended this book by your wife, Michael Findley, and she knew I hadn’t read the first two! Don’t yell at me!

This was the author's reaction when I offered to interview him.
Or maybe this was the time I bumped into Clint Eastwood and told him
I didn't care for Million Dollar Baby.

So I was pleasantly surprised when the only disorientation I felt was the normal amount for entering into a new world, especially in a science fiction book. Sure I didn’t understand everything right away, but that’s okay; I knew enough to get by and I learned as I read. That’s pretty normal. But I wanted to preface this interview by saying this because I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the opening note scared other readers away when glimpsed in an Amazon sample, for instance. You don’t need to be scared. We can get through this. Together. And we can ask the author any questions we have when we interview him on our blog!

In this scene that has nothing to do with Nehemiah, LLC,
Troi uses her special powers to sense that Data is angry.
As I mentioned, Nehemiah, LCC is sci-fi. It’s talky Star Trek: The Next Generation sci-fi more than action-packed space cowboy Firefly sci-fi (or Star Trek reboot sci-fi...or, y’know, Star Wars sci-fi). I don’t know about you, but I’ve got no problem with that. We’re thrown into a world that’s both reminiscent of but also beyond our own, and it was very clear that the author put a lot of thought into the world, the technology and the characters. It’s very easy to get the sense that we are seeing just a slice of daily life for these characters, that the world continues and their lives continue even when they’re not on the page. The environment lives and breathes and that’s great for immersion.

But daily life isn’t always terribly exciting. The main plot—the Life Support Division of Nehemiah, LLC needs to prepare balloon ships for a mission to collect gas from the moon Titan—felt anticlimactic and less engaging than I would have liked. Sometimes there would be the hint of something else—for example, whether or not there was a saboteur—and I would think, Okay! That’s going to be the main plot thread for the book, but then it would be easily dealt with and I finally realized that, no, this is the book: the team troubleshooting a dozen little problems and preparing for the launch. At first, I thought a blossoming romance might provide more  of a hook, but it didn’t get enough attention to be a strong focus.

So I just want to make this point so that you can judge whether this is a book for you. It’s very well written and I enjoyed my time spent in that world. If you’re on the fence, we can spend some time with the author, Michael Findley himself, and that should really make you want to read it!       

Brad: Thanks for swinging by, Michael. I read you and your wife’s blog from time to time, so it’s only appropriate that you visit over here, I think. Now, I realize that this may go against your personal philosophy, but Nehemiah, LLC puts us in the middle of a world that you’ve already been building for a couple books. If this is the book that your wife recommends we read, what should we know going in to it?

To summarize, Nehemiah is to this series
what Revenge of the Sith is to Star Wars.
Michael: This is the last of the first three books. City on a Hill sets up the reason why the people are in space. Next comes Sojourner, a short story of less than 50 pages, deals with events that come immediately before Nehemiah, LLC begins. It establishes most of the technology. Nehemiah, LLC was designed to make people want to read the other books. Therefore I assume people would not know about the other books, so the technology is, hopefully, still understandable to those who have not read the other books. The Space Empire Trilogy follows Nehemiah, LLC and that time frame is decades, maybe centuries, after Nehemiah, LLC, since the balloon ships were new "back then", and in the Empire trilogy they are very common.

Brad: Thanks for clearing that up! If you want to want to read the other books, tap into Nehemiah and prepare to want! Even having read the book, I’m not sure about this. If you had to choose a central protagonist, who would it be? Or is this truly an ensemble?

Michael: Joan is really the protagonist. Things are almost entirely from her point of view, or omniscient, and Tony remains somewhat of a mystery until very near as the end, whereas there are few surprises about Joan that aren't cleared up pretty quickly.

Cher, incidentally, is never referenced
with her last name.
Brad: Okay, well, sure yeah, now that you’ve gone and said it’s Joan, that makes sense. It just seemed to me that Joab or Zacharias might get almost as much attention, sometimes. Okay, so this next question is oddly specific. There was some dialogue at one point in the book about surnames. It seems like there are a number of characters who are very frequently referred to by both their first and last names. For example, looking at the first hundred mentions of Anthony in the book (thanks,  Kindle PC app!), he is called Anthony Lewis by characters and the narrator about 70% of the time (instead of simply Anthony). I wasn’t quite clear on the rationale for that, and one of the benefits of chatting with the author is the ability to ask about things I don’t understand. Can you explain it to me?

Michael: The issue with surnames is an attempt to show cultural differences, but ones that don't really matter in a "right and wrong" sense. Joan's people don't use surnames but many others in the story do, and it's a preference, not a hard and fast dogma of Joan's culture. 

Brad: If it takes longer to ask a question than to answer it, does that make me a bad interviewer? Don’t answer that. It’s my blog. I always like to ask about love in books that aren’t flat-out romance. From the first time a certain two characters meet, it seems like you’re going to pair them together, and that’s precisely what you do! Did you have this romance planned out from the beginning, or did it develop as you wrote and learned about the characters?

Not pictured: A scene from this book.
Michael: I don't think through everything ahead of time. Often my characters are based on real people I know, or the way I perceive them. Then I establish the setting, then the circumstances surrounding the characters. It's more like real life, not planning every circumstance and the response to it ahead of time. Shakespeare had very realistic people, though sometimes in odd situations, but still reacting in expected ways. Near the end of the book I was wondering myself if the romance would happen, or if they would get angry and never speak again. 

Brad: Well, no spoilers here! But I am glad they didn’t get angry and never speak again. That would have made my heart make a frowny face. I made a reference to Star Trek: The Next Generation in my introduction. So I’ve got to ask: what’s your favorite Trek? And you can’t possibly write in this genre and not be able to weigh on this subject, Sir.
According to some fanfic, Beverly Crusher left her
husband after he became an indie author.

Michael: #1, STNG, with Data as a favorite character. #2, McCoy from STOS, though they are very much opposites. Also Riker and Dr. Crusher (don't tell my wife, but I did have a "Crush" on her). Dr. Crusher's single mom success with Wesley was admirable.

Brad: Well, this will be awkward. Your wife is always kind enough to share and tweet my blog posts for me. So I have to choose between more readers and destroying your marriage. Well, you guys are getting up there. You’ve had a good run. And, anyway, by failing to mention anyone from Deep Space 9, I do fear you’ve failed the interview. But, come on—who doesn’t love Data? So you might get a C- after all. Sci-fi or not, were there any specific influences—book, film, television, whatever—that may have helped inspire or guide Nehemiah (or the whole series) at all?

Michael: The entire series is inspired by the Pilgrims and others coming to America but in a technological setting. Many characters in the series are even named after those people. Jonathan Edwards is one example. The blend of the technology is mine and I take credit, responsibility, or blame, for it being correct or incorrect, but each piece is based on something that already exists. The tubes to transfer around Mars are based on the Chunnel, for example. Many of the life-support problems were discovered through the
This is Arizona, but it could totally be somewhere on Mars too.
Biosphere Project in Arizona.

Brad: Wow! I’ve never have an interviewee use so many words I didn’t understand in one answer before! You get the Much Smarter Than Brad award! Yay! Here’s one of my standard questions that I wasn’t asking yet when I interviewed your wife’s if you bump into her, ask her for me and let me know what she says, okay? For now, I’ll just ask you. What do you perceive is your greatest strength as an author? And your greatest weakness?

Michael: My greatest weakness is the lack of time and ability to edit well and thoroughly. My greatest strength is family members who do a lot of editing for me and help me fix things. Daughter and wife are my two best editors.

Sophronia says to tell you that her greatest weaknesses are a fondness for tea and crumpets. Seriously, she laments that readers sometimes say her story beginnings are a bit disorganized, and take time to come
together. Her greatest strength she believes is that she has read with love and attention to detail the stories of great authors from whom her characters are taken, She and strives to be faithful to the spirit of classic Victorian literature and help revive interest in these great stories.  

Brad: Check that out. Two answers for the price of one. You are some lucky blog visitors today, aren’t you, dear readers? Okay, it gets confusing if I’m talking to my readers and then to Michael so, back to the author: Many of the works that you and your wife write are attacks or defenses against secular humanism. First of all, does that battle come into Nehemiah, LLC at all?

The flip side of this humanist holiday ad is that
if there is a God, these people actually have
a bit of a problem.
Michael: Less than anything else I have written. This story is more of a personal story, Joan trying to figure out what she's supposed to be doing within her society, just as we as believers try to figure our our place within the church. This is also a promotional book for the rest of the Empire series. Clashes over Secular Humanism tend to antagonize people and the characters and story here are, hopefully, likeable, to draw people in and create a favorable atmosphere for them to accept the heavier messages of other books in the series.

Brad: Secondly, and on a related note, your blog and this book make it pretty clear that you’re a follower of Jesus Christ. As a believer, do you feel any sort of Christian duty or obligation to incorporate spiritual themes into your work? I suppose I’m mostly interested in fiction here, since that’s what we do on this blog, and I think your nonfiction is pretty overt on the topic.

Michael: I am very disturbed by other authors who claim to be Christian and who write material that is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As believers we are commanded in the Word of God to limit ourselves to forms of writing that exalt the Lord Jesus Christ [Super Blogger Extraordinaire Note: I asked Michael to clarify what passage he was referring to here, telling him that all I was familiar with that might work was 1 Cor. 10:31. He told me to go ahead and use that one, so I'm not sure of the exact reference he intended here]. I am not claiming to be perfect but am trying to uphold a standard of Christ and the Old Testament, where they used parables, fiction, to get across important points. We also need to keep in mind that these are works of fiction, not lose ourselves in a fantasy world. We do need to present sin as sin, and it must have serious consequences. Sin seems to be something to play with in too many works that call themselves fiction.

Brad: Hey, you won’t see anything that doesn’t aim to glorify God and point to Him come from this guy! Are you working on anything you’d like to share with us right now?

As the saying goes, the family that
writes together, fights together.
No, that can't be it...but it rhymes...
Michael: We are trying to create a multi-part homeschool curriculum. Our book Antidisestablishmentarianism was the introductory work, explaining our foundational beliefs and historical The Conflict of the Ages project has two published modules now [Blog-Writer-Master’s note: here’s one and two] and is an attempt to create an accurate picture of history, science, and literature, combining elements of all of them at times and splitting into separate studies at other times. The focus is to prepare Christians to "give an answer" to the secular world about the truth and authority of the Scriptures, to explain the origin of the universe, to tell how sin entered the world and its continuing effects, and to give an accurate historical timeline.
and scientific perspectives. It's about as long as a few doctoral dissertations.

Brad: Pretty ambitious, huh? Check it out, homeschooling parents! It’s no secret by now that these little interviews tend to get a bit violent. I suppose it’s a testament to how hungry us starving authors are for a bit of publicity that they still risk their lives coming to talk to me. I know I’ve never turned an interview down! But, reckless and illegal or not, my methods have gotten results, so I’m going to keep using them. I invited some ninjas to the party. They’re in the next room. In the spirit of your book, they’re actually space ninjas. Pretty cool, huh? Well, those space ninjas are going to turn you into a Michael Findley shish kebob if you don’t answer my questions, buddy. The first under-duress question is what your favorite book is. And don’t say the Bible—that’s cheating. And don’t say Biblical Studies: Student Edition—that’s narcissistic.

I used to go for Dr. Seuss myself.
Michael: My favorite book is War and Peace. Tolstoy has a very lengthy section at the end that explains what history should be and how it should be told. I don't agree with every part but it's the best description out there. The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn is my second favorite work because that is where we are headed. In response to the threat ... What threat? If they attack, I will tickle them to death.

Brad: Those ninjas were really hoping you would refuse to answer, possibly on noble authorial grounds. They love to skewer. So who’s your favorite author? And, no, you cannot choose Mary C. Findley just because the two of you share a bed. Although that probably would net you some nice brownie points.

Michael: Shakespeare. Not one particular work, but in totality he definitely is the best. I've patterned my
character development after him, and I love the movie adaptations of Kenneth Branagh.

Brad: Ah, the Bard himself. If you’re trying to butter up the guy with the theatre degree, it’s working. You now have a straight B on this interview! Now, let’s get down to business. You’re an indie author with a pretty decent catalog of books, especially if we include the ones penned by your other half (and given the “one flesh” rule [Gen. 2:24], we probably should). Other than buying Michael Findley books for all their family members and their postal delivery person, how can our readers best support you if they scoop up Nehemiah, LLC (or start with the first in the series, City on a Hill) and become huge fans?

Michael: As general advice for readers, I say, don't watch television. Brain cells die every time you turn it on.
A Google Image search for "TV kills brain cells" brought
up this screenshot, so I decided to go with it.
Know what you are looking for and how to find it. Learn how to really use search engines. Some of the best scientific articles/books I've found in the last five years are indie published. I have been given book titles or authors to look up, not ones available on Amazon, and Google did not find them. I searched on Bing and they came up. 

But that doesn’t—Michael, how does that support you? Ah, he’s gone home already, or possibly off to take the Bing it On Challenge. Anyway, this seems like a good time to plug my theofictionology blog posts about television shows The Following (which has gotten so much sillier since I wrote about it) and Last Resort (which, okay, had a few silly moments itself over its truncated run as well)! I don’t think you’ll lose brain cells just by reading about them, and I would make the case that I have gained many wrinkly cells by watching The Wire but, um, remember when Michael was smarter than me? Ah, nevermind.

Thank you very much to Michael Findley, our special guest! The book we’ve been focusing, if you’ve forgotten, is called Nehemiah, LLC and I think it’s worth a read. You certainly should have enough information after this interview to decide whether you’d like to try it or not. But, if it sounds good, be forewarned: it may make you want to read the rest of the series. But, um, since Michael wouldn’t tell us how he wants to be best supported, maybe you should go ahead and do just that.

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