Welcome to our February First Friday Breakfast with Michael H. Payne, an American science fiction and fantasy writer, cartoonist, and reviewer. He holds an M.A. in Classics from the University of California, Irvine, and has hosted the Darkling Eclectica, a radio program originally on Saturday mornings, now on Sunday afternoons, on KUCI for more than 25 years.
Michael’s novel The Blood Jaguar (Tor Books, 1998) and most of his short stories utilize talking animal characters: his novelette “Crow’s Curse” won third place in the Writers of the Future contest in 1991 and his short story “Familiars” won the Ursa Major Award in 2002. His cartoons as well, published in the New Horizons anthology from Shanda Fantasy Arts and on his websites, take animals, give them intelligence, and examine what sorts of multi-cultural societies they might form.
As a reviewer, Payne is a past contributor to Tangent magazine, both in its original print edition and in its early online form, and his capsule book reviews began appearing in 1999 on the website of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He lives on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, California, where he works for the public library and is a cantor and guitar player at the local Catholic church.
This morning I’m having an arugula salad topped with a half banana, mango, blueberries, pecans and white truffle olive oil, a small baguette slice smeared with roasted cherry tomatoes, and blueberry coffee. What are you having for your virtual breakfast, Mike?
Even on a good day, I can only manage to think about one thing at a time, so I like to automate as much of my life as possible: I grab the first shirt in line from the closet every day, the first pair of socks from the drawer, et cetera. I shudder to think what a swirling maelstrom of horror my life would become if I owned more than one pair of shoes.
And the same goes for breakfast. Every morning for the past decade or so, it’s been a bowl of dry Kashi “Go Lean” cereal with a banana broken in two on top of it and a big glass of 1% milk on the side. Sometimes when my dad’s made a tub of fruit salad, I’ll scoop some of that on top along with the banana and microwave the bowl for 30 seconds or so. Variety and fruit salad, after all, being the spice of life…
That works! Tell us about your writing process from concept to draft to revision.
For me, a story starts with a Person in a Place with a Problem. In the case of my novel The Blood Jaguar, I’d been writing a series of short stories about the talking animal folks living in and around the little town of Ottersgate while in college at the end of the 1980s–I sort of wandered into an M.A. in Classics from UCI. But when one of those stories, “Crow’s Curse,” won 3rd place in the Writers of the Future contest in 1991, I decided that I’d try an epic fantasy novel next, something along the lines of “The Lord of the Rings” meets “Watership Down.”
The more I thought about it, though, the more my mind started wandering toward different sorts of fantasy novels, and I ended up not focusing on Rat, the hero of the short stories, but on Bobcat instead, the catnip-addicted town drunk and a minor villain in the series. What if, I thought, this surly grouch suddenly finds himself chosen by a pantheon of deities he doesn’t even believe in to be their champion in a confrontation with the Blood Jaguar, the pantheon’s death goddess, with the fate of the world at stake?
Yeah, that seemed like something that’d be fun to write about. I structured the thing after Virgil’s Aeneid, the least epic of the ancient epics, let myself play around with the conventions of epic fantasy, and sold it to Tor Books in 1998.
Tell us more about The Blood Jaguar. What inspired your main characters and the storyline? Why animals/birds?
I wanted to do several things with The Blood Jaguar: write a fantasy story about science, for instance, and try to make Bobcat’s essentially unheroic nature into as much of a virtue as I could. I’m quite happy with how it came out even though I never managed to interest Tor in the sequel.
As for the talking animal thing, it’s a question I’ve been asked by more than one editor over the years. But for all that I’ve sold several short stories here and there that didn’t feature talking animals, something about plain ol’ human beings just doesn’t strike my fancy. With a variety of animal characters, after all, multi-cultural issues instantly become a part of the fabric, issues of how a talking cat would relate to a talking dog on one side and a talking mouse on the other. There’s an natural tension that I find great fun in playing around with, and besides, I mean, everybody writes stories about human beings! Why go with the crowd?
Another scoop of fruit salad for the Kashi? What did you find fun about writing this story and what was difficult?
I find everything fun about writing stories, especially the difficult parts. It’s why I keep doing it even though I know it’ll never be more than a hobby that earns me just enough money each year to force me into filing Schedule C with my income tax. Of course, I’ve been bypassing that whole “earning money” part of the equation lately and having a great deal of fun writing fanfiction for the latest iteration of the My Little Pony cartoon show–I’ve just accepted a volunteer gig helping to sort through the virtual reams of stories submitted to Equestria Daily, one of the largest Pony fan sites, as a matter of fact.
So maybe it could be that I find the writing fun and the making money difficult. I somehow doubt that I’m alone in this, however…
Tell us about your next project and when it may be published.
I’ve got two ongoing webcomics that I’ve been writing and drawing now for nearly a decade: Daily Grind with new pages Monday through Friday, and Terebinth with a new page every Monday. I should warn folks, though, that the artwork’s more than a little eye-gouging.
Rat’s Reputation, the sequel to The Blood Jaguar, is allegedly scheduled for release sometime this year from Sofawolf Press, so that’ll be the end of a decade-and-a-half long project. I’ve also been publishing a series of stories since 2008 in the annual Sword and Sorceress anthology put out by the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Trust, and I’ll be working to fix them up into a novel this year. I’ve got more reprint short stories that I’ll be setting up over at Amazon and a novel inspired by my current obsession with My Little Pony, so there’s plenty to keep me busy.
Thank you for sharing your breakfast and writing life, Michael. Congratulations on your publications and my best hopes for an early release of Rat’s Reputation.
Before you blast off to Amazon to buy The Blood Jaguar (http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Jaguar-Around-About-Ottersgate-ebook/dp/B003ZK573W) or choose another of his captivating novelettes (http://www.amazon.com/Crows-Curse-Around-About-Ottersgate-ebook/dp/B00GHYKBDY) or short stories, who would like to join us in a glass of Michael’s favorite drink, milk?