Monday, July 15, 2013

Interview with M.P. Ness

  • Today, I talk to author and artist, M.P. Ness, who recently wrote his novel, White Leaves. Let's hear what he has to say. (To check out my previous interview with Michael Brookes, click here).

    Please tell us about White Leaves

    Well, Rich, I'd be delighted to. White Leaves originated as a stand-alone, foot-in-the-door novel, designed specifically to adhere to industry standards and allow me to glide into the big publishing house world. Fanciful and dreamy concept, that.
    I started with the raw concept being pitched to urban fantasy authors holding an urban fantasy seminar at the PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writer's Association) summer conference, when I didn't even write urban fantasy.

    Richelle Mead and another young woman whose name escapes me (as many do) both liked the concept very much, and I was inspired to put other works on hold and focused solely on E.L.F.

    I wrote 120k words in the next 30 days flat.

    The story just poured out of me as if I'd been holding it back for years. However, I never really submitted it anywhere until I stumbled across Juke Pop Serials, who was taking submissions for their beta launch. After being accepted, E.L.F. - White Leaves ranked consistently in top 10 and won most-voted Serial for two consecutive months (jan/feb 2013).

    After being pretty successful there as a free, unedited serial(admittedly with its problems), I grew determined to publish it myself.

    And now I'm here today.

    The idea for White Leaves, originally titled just E.L.F. came to me from a newspaper stand in Seattle, where the paper's headline and large image was something to the effect of a housing complex aflame beneath the bold text "ELF burns down housing complex". Naturally, as a fantasy and elf-loving reader/writer...this struck me into buying the paper and reading the article. E.L.F. the novel was born...and in the course of writing it, I developed an entire series out of it. I'm presently writing book two, Blighted Leaves. Thus, there was a need for individual titles. White Leaves' title comes from a set of eight special white leaves grown from the Tree of Life within the story.

    Cool beans. Next question. Your story features the Tree of Life in it. Mine does, too. What are your thoughts on the Tree of Life and how does it play out in your story?

    For me, the Tree of Life is really just a symbol, like a ring is a symbol of marriage.
    For White Leaves, however, the Tree, named Addl'laen (addle-lane) is a very real, and very much sentient life-form. Verily, she is the pool from which all sentient souls are derived. She is our mother, and no gods, save her own, exist for us to worship. She bears a leaf for every living person. And as you could imagine, that makes her incredibly huge. So, how could something so tremendous, especially a singular towering tree, escape mankind's notice for all the time we've been on earth? Well, to answer that, you'll have to read White Leaves.

    Nice. Will do. :) You started a successful Kickstarter campaign for your book. Can you tell us about that?

    Oh yes. Kickstarter was a lot of fun. It was a bit of a challenge as well. Getting everything pulled together was a fair amount of work, but I managed to pull it off. I ran the kickstarter for a very simple reason. I'm publishing a book. I want to celebrate. Who doesn't want to celebrate that sort of a life-long goal, you know? But, I thought, if I can give people books AND a show, and have everyone come together to enjoy a night on the town in Seattle, that's probably the coolest thing I could imagine.

    So, I gathered friends, bands, artists, comedians, and spoken word together for one night. It wasn't just about me accomplishing a goal. And it wasn't just about promoting E.L.F. It was a party to celebrate ART in its many forms. This is something patently Seattle, I must say. The artistic community thrives and breeds an ever-expanding sense of diversity and enriches our culture here at an almost exponential rate, because people like myself and those who came to support my efforts by contributing to it are doing what we did that night.
    We share each other's joy and help one another's work come into the light. Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Mudhoney...these sorts of bands are world famous, and all of them come out of Seattle and its surround. Why is that?

    Not just because they're phenomenal musicians. No. Its because they became amazing musicians IN this melting pot of support and friendship in the Seattle area.

    The Kickstarter project I ran was set at a very modest goal, the bare minimum I needed to put together the party, just to ensure it was easy to hit, could ensure the event happened, and thus pay it forward, as they say. Kickstarter essentially paid for the venue to hold the party at, and to bring in a pile of books for people to enjoy. The rewards for donating were not as well thought out as I should have considered them, because there are literally so many ways one can reward people for contribution. But it was a learning experience. Next time, it'll be better.

    I bet! How did you go about making the trailer for your book? What was going through your head when you made it (Especially the musical selection)?

    With the White Leaves book trailer, I signed up for temporary free memberships to stock-video clip websites, downloaded all kinds of footage, and found some cinematic scores and the like. I made sure to download as much as I could within the allotted week long free membership, just to ensure I had enough footage to put together a good trailer.

    Now, my original idea was to do as much story-telling with the footage as I could. However, telling a fantasy story with a ton of unreal, impossible-to-film concepts and locations and events and well, impossible. Its not like making a movie trailer where both music and footage are pre-existing for the story you're trying to tell.

    So, after striking out on the footage aspect, I reinvented my initial concept.

    E.L.F. - White Leaves is at its heart, a contemporary fairy tale. Fairy tales all have one thing in common. A moral to the story.

    But, I noticed something else. It was in the vagaries of portrayal that rather defines many fairy tales. Imagery is slim and suggestive, not sharp, clear or defined well.

    Scott McCloud, I believe, wrote a comic book, on how to write comic books, and in it he had a brilliant suggestion as to how people/readers identify with comics on a fundamental level.
    The more detailed and realistic a character is, the less or at least, the harder it is for a reader to identify with that character. This is why simplistic stylized comic strips in your sunday paper are so readily and easily consumed by the public.

    Simple, stylized characters are us. We can put ourselves into them more easily than we can put ourselves into a detailed realistic depiction of say, Superman. Thus, more people can connect with Jon Arbuckle and Garfield than Superman.

    Just an example. but the point here is this. I retooled the concept of the White Leaves trailer for a sheer lack of existing footage that could be of any real use to me. However, in doing so, I created a better, more successful trailer, in my opinion...because its like those fairy tales. Its like those simplistic drawings of Smiley Faces which more people can connect with because it doesn't give you every tiny detail.

    When it came to the music, I decided to go dark and heavy. The E.L.F. world and story are dystopian in nature, and darkness is thick throughout the story and its future releases.
    I knew exactly what I wanted out of the sound-scape from the moment I started. I wanted a selection from one of metal band, Machine Head's, I've been a fan for more years than I can count.

    But I also wanted that otherworldly cinematic quality to it.

    And I had to tell the sheer epic levels of the story itself.

    So, in creating the score for the trailer, I pieced together music that would let the trailer feel as much like an epic movie trailer as I could, whilst also adhering to that vague fairy-tale feeling. The sound was surprisingly easy and quite quick for me (as I've had training in video/audio software) since I knew what I was going for from the beginning.

    Nice. Your story features a Eco-terrorist from Seattle. Being from Seattle yourself, how much of your home city did you put in the story?

    Initially, I put quite a bit of Seattle details into the story. Little things, like the union of Westlake and 5th avenue near the cop-shop headquarters downtown, and how it forms this little triangle at the junction of Belltown and Downtown at the first of the skyscrapers that make the Seattle Skyline unmistakable across the country, if not the world... The Westin Towers was in there. The white arcs that herald the Seattle Science center. The famed Space Needle, of course. But even more so, I went into the surrounding areas and put small towns and details about them into the book as locations the characters pass through. I even hit up the University of Washington campus, the Japanese Arboretum, and hospitals on Capitol Hill. I went so far as to include the bobbing clickety ride of the raised southern portion of Interstate 5 that runs through the city as it USED to be (its since been smoothed out)

    I spared little.

    However, during the editing process, it was decided that not all of the details were that relevant to the tale. Some of them were smoothed down by Mrs. Torgerson (editor), but some of them stayed in.

    Your story E.L.F. is volume 1. Any ideas of where you are going for volume 2?

    Oh yes! Indeed I do.

    I'm already approaching half-way through the rough manuscript for volume 2!

    White Leaves is named for these little white leaves on the tree of life, as I said. Its all pretty and shiny and new. Its book one.

    Now, I did say its dark and dystopian and given the heavy metal I used in the book trailer, it could be said the story is harsh and unforgiving.

    It has bite. But bear in mind its just book one.

    In my mind there is only one way to go from a dark dystopian world...and it is not upward.
    I cannot give away the setting for book two without spoiling the ultimate outcome of White Leaves. It simply impossible. However, I can say it gets darker, harder, and harsher for the characters. I tend to be a bit merciless to my poor fabricated children. The title is, Blighted Leaves, if that's any indication. My editor already despises one character, Moarjin, so much she would probably be happy if I killed him off. But Moarjin is just the tip of the iceberg so to speak. Some of my favorite characters and most devilish creations have started coming to light with the writing of book two. I dare say I've fallen in love with this series that was only supposed to be a single book. But that's how it goes sometimes. Worlds can end up building themselves if you give them enough time to breathe.

    Great! Is the anything else you would like to talk about or plug?

  • Well, I could continue to plug E.L.F. Vol. 1, White Leaves by saying its 25% OFF for the whole of its debut month, this month, July @

    You can get it for less than a cup of famed Seattle coffee.

    Later this summer, I'm planning a local author's meet up at a tavern called AFK (away from keyboard) in Everett, WA. It's a tavern dedicated to gamers and geeks in all their forms.
    That should be a fun time...but its just a rumor as of yet.

    Waiting on hearing back from the venue.

    But I and others should be able to make it happen and bring together a geeky book signing.

    And finally, here are some links to various people and stories on that I'd like to share with your readers:

     C A Sanders' "The Watchmage of Old New York"
    Secrets of the Conclave
    Sixth Seal
    Metal bodyguard

    Thanks so much for the interview.

    It was my pleasure. Good luck with E.L.F.

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