Today I am interviewing Michael R. Underwood, author of the science fiction and fantasy, genre-hopping novellas series. Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection just hit the digital shelves, with the paperback hot on its heels.
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DJ: Hey Michael! Thanks for coming back to do a follow up interview about the Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection!
I had you on the first time to about the Kickstarter for Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection. Now that it is completed, how did it turn out? Would you consider using it again for future projects?
Michael R. Underwood: Kickstarter took up even more of my attention and energy than I’d expected, but it was totally worth it. Kickstarter was a great partner for getting the word out about the campaign and the series in general. KS’s own discovery systems brought in around 27% of the pledge funding, which was notably higher than I was expecting. The backers have been very supportive (and not just with their pledges), and I’ve been very pleased by reader responses to the season as it unfolds. I sent the ebook omnibus rewards to backers in advance of the official release date, and am just finalizing the paperback print run now.
DJ: In case any of my readers missed the first interview, please tell us again: What is the Genrenauts series about? And what is a “genrenaut”?
Michael: Genrenauts is an adventure science fiction series told in novellas, for fans of Leverage, Quantum Leap, Redshirts, and/or recent webseries Dramaworld.
In Genrenauts, our Earth is one of many. Every other world is the home of a story genre, from Western or Fantasy to Romance, Action, Crime, etc. Stories play out in these worlds – familiar tale types, archetypal characters, and so on.
When stories on these worlds go off-track, you send in the Genrenauts. This team of narrative specialists travels across dimensions to find, analyze, and fix broken stories. If they don’t, the ripples manifest as violence and upheaval in our own world (when Science Fiction World goes off-track, scientific innovation stagnates and exploration halts; when Fantasy World goes off-track, xenophobia rises and cultural rifts widen, etc.).
Stand-up comedian Leah Tang is recruited to join the Genrenauts as stories are breaking at a record pace. Will she adapt to the bizarre and dangerous life of a Genrenaut, or will she end up as just another broken story?
DJ: What are the universes of the Genrenauts series like?
Michael: Each of the genre worlds is its own place, and each of those worlds is divided up into sub-genre regions. The Romance World has a Rom-Com region, another for Regency Romances, and so on. In the first season, the Genrenauts travel to the Western World, to a Babylon 5/Deep Space Nine-esque space opera region in Science Fiction, the Rom-Com region of Romance World, the odd-couple police procedural region of Crime World, and the Heroic region of Fantasy World. Each of those settings is informed by touchstones from the genre in question. For the Westerns, I leaned heavily on the novels of Louis L’Amour that I read growing up, as well as iconic Westerns like Tombstone or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to legendary parody Blazing Saddles, and others, picking an imaginary town in the American Southwest. For the Rom-Com region, I chose New York City, but specifically the glamorous NYC of the genre, where everyone can afford amazing apartments and expensive wardrobes. I chose Chicago for the crime region, going for a more working-class city and to set the story during a blizzard, which let me ramp up the tension just for getting from scene to scene. And for the season finale, I took the team to a bog-standard pseudo-European fantasy kingdom, in order to poke loving fun at traditional fantasy stories with chosen ones, dark lords, prophecies, parties of adventurers, and more.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characterA? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Michael: Our heroes are one of three teams of Genrenauts in the Mid-Atlantic base (south of Baltimore). That base is just one of many all around the world, each covering a different assortment of genre worlds.
The team is led by Angstrom King, a sometimes stern, sometimes playful comparative literature professor turned interdimensional adventurer. He’s equal parts teacher and mastermind, recruiting and leading a team with the skills to find, analyze, and fix stories in the major commercial genres (including Romance, Crime, and Science Fiction/Fantasy). Other members of the team include Shirin Tehrani, an Iranian spy-turned-story fixer, with connections, allies, and favors stashed around a dozen story regions; Mallery York, an ex-Broadway comedienne turned grifter with a personality that could fill a stadium; Roman de Jager, a South African ex-paramilitary action specialist, confident and ever-ready in the field but fidgety and melancholic back on Earth Prime. The newest recruit to the team is Leah Tang, a struggling stand-up comic and life-long fantasy fan offered the chance to leave her stable-but-boring office job for the danger and excitement of the Genrenauts.
The team makes up a found family, much as you’d expect from a group that spends long hours working together under incredible stress. Additionally, they’re very much a Heist Crew, each with their specialties and oddities, their skills fitting together to be able to respond to any number of possible broken stories. Additionally, the various members of the team have their own secrets and particular agendas within the Genrenauts mission, which sometimes creates additional dangers on certain missions. To say more would be a spoiler, so I’ll leave it at that.
DJ: On our last interview, I asked you what you liked or thought was an advantage to writing novellas; this time, I want to ask you this time from the other side of the coin:
As a reader, why do you enjoy reading novellas? Some people aren’t fans or refuse to try them because of the length; what would you say to those people to try to get them to change their mind?
Michael: I love reading novellas because they require efficiency of prose and plotting due to the constrained length, but are long enough to really develop an idea or present a story with some twists and turns. I’ve taken to reading novellas as palate cleansers between longer works. I especially appreciated that when I finally finished Stephen King’s The Stand (the expanded author’s preferred text version), when I felt like it was the only book I’d finished in ages. I read a couple of novellas in different subgenres and it refreshed my reading spirit. I felt like I’d gotten some steam and sampled several different writer’s styles.
Additionally, I’ve come to enjoy and appreciate novella series by others, in addition to the stand-alones. I loved Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti, and I can’t wait to read Binti: Home, the sequel. And Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour novellas make me laugh like nothing else in print.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing the Genrenauts novellas?
Michael: I think my favorite part was one of structure and process. With Genrenauts, I get to explore different genres and sub-genres than I usually write in, all while keeping a cohesive through-line of the characters and the series meta-plot. Like the characters themselves, I as a writer get to try on a bunch of different hats and explore my relationship to these different genres in depth. I started with Westerns because Louis L’Amour books on tape used to be my bedtime stories. I wrote a Rom-Com episode because I loved Rom-Coms when I was younger and frequently single. Genrenauts lets me take readers on a grand tour of all of the parts of storytelling I love.
DJ: The first six individual episodes of Genrenauts have already been released, so what have readers been talking about most once they finished it? How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers?
Michael: The first episode of Genrenauts received my first two trade reviews (a positive review from Library Journal and a much less-positive one from Publishers Weekly), but more important to me has been the direct response from readers who have connected with and enjoyed the books. The most heartening response I get from readers is one or another variation of: “this was so much fun, I want to read another,” which is all I could have asked for and more.
I write because I want my work to be read, want to be able to communicate things about how I see the world while also telling a rollicking adventure story. That readers have connected with the work means the world to me. The series hasn’t been a runaway blockbuster, sales-wise (yet, he said hopefully), but what it has found is a solid, energetic base of readers. And knowing that I have people out there eager for the next episode makes it so much easier to push through the hard times, when I’m struggling with some publishing system or beating my head on the wall about how to fix a scene that’s not quite there. I’m so excited to get all of the omnibus rewards from the Kickstarter sent out so I can start writing Season Two.
DJ: This is only first omnibus of a planned five or six season, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across to readers when it is finally told?
Michael: There’s a season-long arc for Leah, focusing on her finding her role in the team and realizing a dream she’s had for nearly her whole life. The first season also presents an introductory tour to the primary genres the series is going to investigate – Crime, Romance, and Science Fiction/Fantasy, aka the primary commercial genre fiction categories. Each season will have some expeditions outside that trio, but I wanted very consciously to center those three genres for the series.
DJ: I’m always curious when authors finish a series, how close to the original course they stayed when it is finally completed or if it ended up evolving and changing. Technically this is only a 1/5 or so of the series, but has the plot stayed the same as you had first imagined it? How about the ending? Evolution of your characters?
Michael: The series has really unfolded in the telling. The overall plot beats are much as I imagined them, but I’ve found even better ways to tie everything together than I originally imagined, and have been really pleased with how the character relationships have developed over the course of the season.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection that you can share with us?
Michael: I’m really fond of this line from Leah’s introductory stand-up set from Episode One, talking about the idea of the Chosen One in fantasy:
“But I tell you what—if you come across a farm boy and an old wizard, shiv them, take their horses, and go make your own destiny.”
DJ: Once the Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection is released, what is next for you?
Michael: I’ve been working on a space opera off-and-on when I can make time. It’s incredibly fun to write, and stars a bantering-in-love married couple getting in way over their heads in a SF setting as big and bold as I can imagine. I’ll also be starting to outline and write Genrenauts Season Two.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Michael-R.-Underwood/e/B007TKHGAQ/
Author Newsletter: http://michaelrunderwood.com/newsletter/
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection that we haven’t talked about yet?
Michael: If you want to try out the Genrenauts series but aren’t quite ready to take the plunge on the full collection, you can read a stand-alone Genrenauts story for free at Tor.com: https://www.tor.com/2016/04/06/there-will-always-be-a-max/
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Michael: Thanks for having me back!
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*** Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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When Stories Break, You Send in the Genrenauts!
Struggling stand-up comic Leah Tang is offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to join the Genrenauts, a secret organization of dimensional travelers. Leah learns that our world is just one of many, and every other world is the home of a story genre — Science Fiction or Romance, Fantasy or Western — populated by archetypal characters and constantly playing out familiar stories.
The Genrenauts’ mission: find and fix broken stories. If they fail, the ripples from the story worlds will cause havoc and devastation on their home world.
Leah joins the team and dives head-first into the adventure. But the stories are breaking faster and worse than ever before. Will Leah rise to the occasion, or will she end up as just another broken story?
Contains all six novellas from Season One of Genrenauts:
The Shootout Solution
The Absconded Ambassador
The Cupid Reconciliation
The Substitute Sleuth
The Failed Fellowship (Parts 1 & 2)
Brought to you thanks to the support of hundreds of Kickstarter backers.
About the Author:
Mike has traveled the world, knows why Tybalt cancels out Capo Ferro, and rolls a mean d20.
He is the author the several series: the comedic fantasy Ree Reyes series (GEEKOMANCY, CELEBROMANCY, ATTACK THE GEEK, HEXOMANCY), fantasy superhero novel SHIELD AND CROCUS, supernatural thriller THE YOUNGER GODS, and GENRENAUTS, a science fiction series in novellas. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books.
Mike lives in Baltimore with his wife and their ever-growing library. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he plays video games, geeks out on TV, and makes pizzas from scratch. He is a co-host on the Hugo Award-finalist The Skiffy and Fanty Show as well as Speculate! The Podcast for Readers, Writers, and Fans.