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Drunk on Ink Q & A with Mike Chen and “Here and Now and Then”

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of  the novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. 

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter

About Here and Now and Then

To save his daughter, he’ll go anywhere- and any-when…Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in IT, trying to keep the spark in his marriage, struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Miranda. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career…as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142. Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s after a botched mission, Kin has kept his past hidden from everyone around him, despite the increasing blackouts and memory loss affecting his time-traveler’s brain. Until one afternoon, his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late. Their mission: return Kin to 2142, where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and where another family is waiting for him. A family he can’t remember. Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten to destroy the agency and even history itself, his daughter’s very existence is at risk. It’ll take one final trip across time to save Miranda—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process. A uniquely emotional genre-bending debut, Here and Now and Then captures the perfect balance of heart, playfulness, and imagination, offering an intimate glimpse into the crevices of a father’s heart and its capacity to stretch across both space and time to protect the people that mean the most.

SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with? Why?

MIKE CHEN: The first book I really remember reading and re-reading from my class library — I believe it was 3rd grade — and loving so much that I bought it too was A ROYAL PAIN by Ellen Conford. It was the first book I can remember where the voice really grabbed me; it was snappy and snarky and the dude in it referenced Raiders of the Lost Ark.

 To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Coffee. Coffee to ramp up, coffee to wind down, coffee for everything. Black coffee, to quote Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks, black as midnight on a moonless night.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading? Why?

This is kind of an obscure answer but I tell all genre fans to read the Star Wars: Episode 3 – Revenge of the Sith novelization by Matthew Stover. It is the closest Star Wars will get to literary fiction as it plays with structure and voice and POV. Regardless of what people think of the prequel trilogy films, this book creates such well-rounded characters with Anakin, Obi-Wan, and the Dark Side of the Force (he writes The Dark as its own character and it works so well) that you empathize in the no-win situation that spirals out of control. With the disclaimer that other than a few short political asides, Padme still gets the short shift. This Tor post sums it up better than me.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

My dad loves The Odyssey and The Iliad, which you would not think given that he’s an immigrant engineer from Taiwan. I promised him I’d read those someday and I…still have not. Fortunately, he will probably never see this. I did take him to see the Troy movie with Brad Pitt though, which he thought was terrible, and rightly so.

Favorite quote from your book ?

I am terrible at picking these so I am going to replace “favorite” with “random” and let it rip:

“It’s fine. Really.” From Chapter 10.

Favorite book to film? And why?

I was obsessed with Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles in my teens and I still maintain that the 1994 Neil Jordan film is a near-perfect adaptation with brilliant performances, cinematography, and score.

 Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

I heart the Books Inc chain in the Bay Area.

The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?

I wish I understood 3-act structure better much earlier, particularly the Save The Cat model. That helped me transition from merely writing good dialogue to crafting a tight story.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

I’d say yes and no. The pervasive fear of failure doesn’t seem to go away, at least not among the people I’ve talked to. And coming up with good ideas is still hard. At the same time, I feel like knowing something is working has become more intuitive, and so the actual craft of writing something that’s not a god damn disaster is probably faster. That’s just experience and working agents and editors to point out your bad habits.

Dog, Cat, Or?

My wife and I have always had dogs and cats — currently one dog and three cats. But I think I will always lean dog if I have to pick, even though they are often lovably dumb. On the flip side, my wife says she will always take the smart asshole cat over dogs. We balance each other out.

River the greyhound with two excellent books by Kat Howard

Ideal vacation?

London is one of my favorite places in the world. I lived there during summer 1998 and summer 2000, and I haven’t been back since but I would love to stay there again for several months and re-absorb into their culture.

Favorite book cover?

Can I say my own? It IS a stunning cover!  My pal Dan Stout has a pulpy noir-meets-aliens book coming out soon called TITANSHADE and it is the coolest freaking cover I’ve seen in a while. I seriously just grin when I look at it.

Favorite song?

You’re talking with a music nerd who spent 15 years playing in bands and DJing, so “favorite song” unleashes a whole slew of caveats and sub-categories.  As in, I can talk it by instrument, by lyrics, by genre, by decade, etc. There is no right answer, but plenty of wrong answers! But my favorite song of the past five years or so is called Human Child by cult indie rock band Belly — my Spotify stats will verify that this is the only song that played more in 2018 than my daughter’s Disney Princess songs. In fact, I am wearing a Belly t-shirt in the attached photo!

If I have a movie made of my second book (tentative title THE PAUSE, January 2020 from Mira Books), that song would play during the final scene leading into the credits roll. Tanya Donelly’s always-amazing lyrics thematically match that book so much. I’ve been working on that book in various incarnations since 2011, so when I first heard that song in 2016 it was this weird bit of synchronicity, and I’m not talking about the Police album (which is also great).

Other picks spanning various sub-categories: Sheena Is A Punk Rocker by The Ramones (punk), But Not Tonight by Depeche Mode (new wave), Birth in Reverse by St. Vincent (art rock), All The Way by Ladytron (electronic), In Undertow by Alvvays (dream pop), Perfect World by Liz Phair (singer/songwriter), 1984 by David Bowie (the David Bowie category).

Favorite painting/ work of art?

I love pre-raphaelite artWaterhouse, Burne-Jones, etc. I was really into Arthurian myths in my teens and 20s, and this art style really fell into that. Waterhouse’s The Tempest is still probably my favorite painting.

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

At Worldcon 2018, when I was just at the ARC stage, there was an authors night at a local bar. Authors were encouraged to bring a book for raffle so I brought an ARC. I was surprised when someone actually picked my book — and even more surprised when he hunted me down and asked me to sign it for him.

What is your favorite Austen novel, and film adaptation? Why?

My knowledge of Austen is REALLY REALLY BAD. So…uh…there was a British film called Lost In Austen where a woman wakes up in Jane Austen’s fictional world and that was enjoyable.

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

I fully admit to not being as knowledgeable about presses as I should be. But at Worldcon 2018 I did spend an evening drinking and talking about Doctor Who with Remy Njambi from Rebellion Press, which just may qualify it as The Best.

Last impulse book buy and why?

My TBR pile is already unwieldy and impossible yet there were $2 Kindle sales for ROSEWATER by Tade Thompson and THE CALCULATING STARS by Mary Robinette Kowal and I could not resist.

Soniah Kamal is an award winning essayist and fiction writer. Her novel Unmarriageable: Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan, a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.  NPR calls it ‘thought provoking and deliciously readable’ and People Magazine says “This inventive retelling of Pride and Prejudice charms.” Unmarriageable is an Amazon Best Books pick, a People Magazine’s Pick, a New York Post Best Book pick, a Library Reads pick and more. Soniah’s debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Award for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and is an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s short story ‘Jelly Beans’ was selected for the Best South Asian Short Stories Anthology 2017. Her TEDx talk is about regrets and redemption. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Catapult, The Normal School, Literary Hub, and has been widely anthologized. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University where she was a Paul Bowles Fellow in Fiction. She currently teaches creative writing at Rhineheart University and reviews books for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Soniah will be giving a keynote address at the Jane Austen Summer Program Conference (2019) and she is a Jane Austen Literacy Ambassador. She was born in Pakistan, grew up in England and Saudi Arabia, and currently resides in Georgia.

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Mike Chen: Here and Now and Then, a novel

Ruth Franklin: Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life, biography

Colleen Oakley: Before I Go, a novel

Emily Midorikawa: A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, biography

Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir

Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel

Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction

Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction

Kristen Miller ZohnThe Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book

Vanessa HuaA River of Stars, novel

Chaitli SenThe Pathless Sky, novel

Sonya HuberPain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz BathenaA Girl Like That, YA novel