Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Guest: Michael J. Lee

Bite Club is thrilled to feature Michael J. Lee as our guest today!  He's recently published an awesome story that reworks the classic Frankenstein with a mix of gothic horror, romance, adventure, and a touch of steampunk.  We reviewed it here, and I highly recommend it!  Michael is offering a copy of MY FRANKENSTEIN to one lucky winner (Kindle download only), so show him some love in the comments!  [winner announced next week]

Going from concept to fully polished manuscript is a daunting challenge.
I always play around with a concept until the point where characters, bits of dialogue and scenes start to form in my head.
Then I write them down in as much order as I can manage.
Then what I like to call the twine ball stage. I keep adding stuff making the small synopsis longer and longer. I learned this technique ages ago from a film producer. See before I used to think very linearly about writing, I had to nail down the scene I was on before I went on to the next scene. Well what happens then is you get bogged down and pretty soon you quit the project all because you couldn’t think of one scene. Instead of getting stuck and staying stuck I write down whatever I have regardless of whether it’s in the front, back or middle.
It’s a great way to write. Not to sound too belligerent but it reminds me a lot of the flexible offense pioneered during World War I. After years of slogging it out in the trenches someone got the bright idea to bypass strong defenses and just flow like water to the enemy’s weakest point. If you surround and cut off a pillbox it will eventually surrender. That’s what I often find in writing. If I just concentrate on what I do have, what I know, what is there and just waiting to be put down to paper, then the fuzzy areas, the blocked sections, they start to fill themselves in.
I just keep adding. I keep adding more and more. I put in bits of dialogue or descriptions or action scenes. Anything that I know I want to have in there. Sometimes I end up taking it back out again but that’s during the rewrite. So I just keep adding until a 4 page synopsis becomes a 10 page treatment which then becomes a 30 or 40 page treatment. I keep going. When my treatment is between 70 or a 100 pages that’s when it’s time to turn this into a real novel. I divide it up into chapters and then start converting. It can be a hard process going from treatment to novel. It means you go from standing at a distance, watching things to being there inside the character’s skin. You have to put yourself in the situations you thought of or dreamed about. You add the smells and textures that a real person would notice.
When that’s finally over then come the rewrites. This can take a while. You keep rewriting until it’s done. When is it done? It’s impossible to say. The novel will know when it’s ready. Much like a fine wine, it’s ready when it’s ready and not a second before.
 Once it’s done it’s off to market and marketing.
Then it’s time for the next idea.
 Michael J. Lee
Out of all things to retell, why Frankenstein?
The story was really overdue for a retelling. Look around at the paranormal landscape and you see vampires, werewolves, ghosts, demons, fairies, aliens, androids, mutants. Where has the good doctor and his tortured creation been in the middle of all this? IO9 even did a post about a year ago lamenting that the Paranormal Romance and YA movement had left the Mary Shelley classic behind.
Of course I never had a clue about any of this when I first started the project. When I began writing it was because the story just wouldn’t let me go. It began as just another thought exercise, “What if this happened?” And like all great ideas this one took on a life of its own and just wouldn’t stay in the corner and be quiet. The characters developed their own lives and demanded to be heard. When that happens, as a writer you have follow where it leads and I’m very glad I did.
I also think, despite the fact that this story has been retold several times before, that I’m able to bring a fresh, new perspective to the tale. Namely it’s occurred to me that we still use the term “Frankenstein” in a negative term. Usually we use it to wag our fingers at scientific developments we find troubling or disturbing. And I find that a little bit hypocritical because we are the beneficiaries of so much scientific advancement. Can you declare one form of scientific advancement immoral while you reap the rewards of another? For Mary Shelley who lived in the Romantic period the answer was easier. Now, in our time, our relationship with science and technology is a lot more complicated.
What was your first reaction to the story when hearing it for the first time? 
I honestly can’t remember when I first heard the story. I don’t think anyone can. Frankenstein is so thoroughly woven into our culture now, it’s almost like trying to recall the first time you heard of Superman or Mickey Mouse. Obviously the big guy was a huge part of my childhood. During Halloween he’s as ubiquitous as Santa Claus during Christmas. I remember watching Munsters reruns after school. I even saw an old Saturday morning kids’ show Monster Squad (not to be confused with the modern classic movie!) The actual story I didn’t discover until around middle school. I think at first it was a Classics Illustrated comic book. Eventually I read the original. By that time I’d seen the story interpreted a hundred different ways, Karloff’s movies, the Hammer films, even a Mr. Magoo cartoon. It was one of the first times I really understood the notion of re-imaging; that there was this powerful story everyone knew, even people who had never read the book, and that there were different ways to express it. Sort of Campbell-ian. It’s almost like Greek myth waiting to be re-invented for a new age.
In a small village in early 19th Century young Eva is enthralled by the new young baron, Viktor Frankenstein.  Viktor promises to transform the traditional little town into a beacon of science and gives the book loving Eva access to his fantastic library. Eva becomes his student and assists him in a secret experiment, though she is kept in the dark about its ultimate aim. Soon after that Viktor introduces Eva to his “cousin” Adam. Adam is horribly disfigured with stitches running across his face. Viktor claims he is mute and simpleminded, but Eva takes pity on him and sets out to teach him to speak.…
What follows is a combination of tragic romance and classic horror as Eva is pulled between Viktor, who grows jealous and takes murderous steps to ensure his secret, and Adam, who possess tremendous strength and rage yet deep inside is innocent and vulnerable.
In his debut fantasy novel, Michael J. Lee retells the classic story by Mary Shelley as a dark romance with steampunk overtones.

"Michael Lee is a script consultant, judge and entertainment blogger for The and has lived in Detroit, Connecticut, Ohio and Los Angeles."


Rain Maiden said...

I love retellings of classic stories. Please count me in.

Anna (Bite Club) said...

@Rain Maiden- Do you have a favorite retelling? I'm starting to really like this trend which means that I am searching for some new titles. I recently saw a retelling of The Little Mermaid that I'm wanting to check out. And this book has been tempting me like mad since I read Michele's review. In fact, my promise to myself is that when I finish/catch-up on review books I will reward myself by reading My Frankenstein.

Good luck in the contest!

@Michael J. Lee- Thanks for the guest post and contest! You rock! I cannot wait to read this gorgeous book.

Michael J. Lee said...

TY Anna! And TY to Michele and the whole Bite Club family. You've made me feel very, very welcome!

Rain Maiden said...

@Anna. I have not read a lot of remakes. It seems like there is not a whole lot out there. I do have Maureen McGowan's story Sleeping Beauty Vampire Slayer on my wish list, but I think it's more geared towards teens. I also want to read Entwined by Heather Dixon which is a remake of the 12 dancing princesses it's a YA read also. I crave the adult reads at this moment, but that can change with the wind. I'm all for the Little Mermaid too.