Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing Michael Fiegel.
Michael Fiegel is a writer and game designer known in Internet circles as the creator of the satiric website Ninja Burger. He has written in both the pen-and-paper and computer game industries on award-winning and acclaimed titles such as Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising and Hellas: Worlds of Sun & Stone. His nonfiction humor book, Ninja Burger: Honorable Employee Handbook, was published in 2006.
Michael's first novel, Blackbird, is a literary thriller was released on November 14, 2017. Learn more about Blackbird and read an excerpt at https://www.ibelieveincondiments.com/
AN INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL FIEGEL
- Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?
Blackbird is my first novel but it's not my first published book. That honor goes to the Ninja Burger Honorable Employee Handbook, a comedy book which was written to support the website www.NinjaBurger.com. Ninja Burger was created by me and some friends after I moved to California in the year 2000, right when the "dot com boom" was just about to go bust. It's sort of a satire on the whole idea of weird startups, in this case one where ninja deliver food into highly secure buildings. It caught on at just the right time when the Internet was still developing into what it would become today, back when pirates and ninja were still cool and no one was really using the term "meme" yet.
How is this relevant to me? I think it sort of reflects on my philosophy as a writer and creator. Ninja Burger was only intended to be a silly goofy website but when it caught on, I put more effort into it and it turned into a whole line of merchandise: t-shirts, bumper stickers, several role-playing games, and a very popular card game. I even ended up creating a new holiday called the Day of the Ninja (December 5 is the 14th anniversary). I hadn't planned any of this, but there was interest in it so I created it.
That's kind of what happened with Blackbird too. I started writing it as an online serial and when people really responded to it I put more effort into it and turned it into a novel. There are lots of things I started along the way that got abandoned because they didn't really feel right.
- What inspired you to become an author?
A lot of different things came together when I was in 7th and 8th grade (what some call middle school). I was spending a lot of time reading at the library, and I stumbled across Watership Down. It's still one of my favorite books of all time and really inspired me to want to write something like that some day. I also got interested in Dungeons & Dragons around that time, and that sparked an interest in creating things--not just novels but games as well. Every move I made from that point on was geared towards creating content in one way or another. It just took a while for me to get the first novel out.
- Your debut novel, Blackbird, is a literary thriller about a bond between two killers. How did you come up with the idea for this novel? What inspired you to write it?
I was in the process of moving to the Washington, D.C. area when my car broke down in the middle of Pennsylvania on a hot summer day. I had a pet with me that almost died of heat stroke, and it was the 4th of July weekend so everything was closed for the holiday, and it was a major ordeal to find a tow truck and get my car towed all the way to Virginia. Then I had to deal with finding a ride to my new job, and then on the way home I had to wait two hours for a taxi ride, and then deal with a crowded train ride, followed by a walk home in the heat.
I was really frustrated and upset with the world when I stopped into a fast food restaurant for dinner before I got home, and they screwed up my order (just like happens in the opening chapter of the novel). I would never have done what Edison does in the novel, but I think everyone gets upset and angry at the world sometimes and wonders what they might do if they "just snapped" one day (similar to that one scene in the movie Falling Down). And just then, there were some little children that came into the restaurant to order (also like happens in the novel), and I started wondering about a story where an angry man in a fast food restaurant has to interact with a young girl, maybe in her defense.
One of my favorite movies of all time is Leon (also known as The Professional), so I started thinking about my idea further during the rest of my walk home and pondering what Leon might be like if the "bad guy" rescued the girl instead of the good guy. I started writing Blackbird the next day.
- Could you tell us something about the protagonists, Edison and Christian?
The main thing I wanted to do with Blackbird was have two strong, realistic characters who were not easy to lump into specific categories. I did not want to create a story where there was a John Wick type heroic antihero and a young Rey (from the new Star Wars films) who just kicked ass like everything was a big action film. So I intentionally pushed things in the other direction and made them very gray, like I think real life often is. The closest analog I think to something readers might recognize is Arya and The Hound from Game of Thrones, only without the swords.
Edison is a middle-aged "bad guy for hire" who has done plenty of terrible things in his life, but whose best days are clearly behind him. I thought it would be much more interesting to explore someone who's outlived their usefulness and is furious at the world for not giving him the opportunity to go out in a blaze of glory at his peak. Edison is also struggling with trying to understand his relationship with this little girl apprentice he's abducted/adopted. He has identified himself as a sociopath for so long that he doesn't really know what to do with the fact that he kind of ends up caring for her, in his own way.
Likewise, Christian struggles with her own identity, and questions why she continues to play daughter-figure to this unlikely parent/mentor who tries to kill her at least once. She has multiple chances to get away and chooses not to, justifying it to herself as she sort of explores her own feelings towards the world. In many ways this is the story of a really damaged relationship, and I think everyone knows someone in real life who's in a bad relationship and can't seem to escape it. Blackbird sort of takes that experience up a notch into a much darker place, and Christian is at the center of that. She is the reason the story begins, and the reason it ends the way it does.
A little trivia: Christian got her name (which is traditionally a male name) in part because I'm a fan of William Gibson, and I always liked the little reference at the end of Neuromancer to "a girl who called herself Michael." There's no super-deep meaning, I just liked the idea of setting Christian apart on several levels, her name being one of them. Not only does she question her own identity but she has societal norms questioning her as well.
- What was the most challenging part of writing Blackbird? And what was the most rewarding part of the writing process?
The most challenging part was trying to make sure it seemed realistic. Obviously the events are entirely fictional, but I mean little things like keeping track of ammunition, and having people miss gunshots, and how loud guns are in close quarters, and how long it can be to recover from injuries. There were several places where I could have written things so they erupted into a huge John Woo style gun battle but I had to pull myself back and remember to keep it real. I tried really hard not to glorify anything that happens in the novel or make it completely fanciful.
In terms of how real it feels, it's not hard to see how Blackbird is very relevant to a lot of the things we're reading about in the news right now. It asks a lot of the same questions we're all asking, questions that sometimes don't have good answers. That's a synchronicity I could not have foreseen; I started writing the novel back in 1999 and finished the first draft in 2009, and there's no way I could have predicted that it would be published in 2017 in the middle of everything we're dealing with right now. I suppose it's unfortunately very timely.
The most rewarding thing happens every time someone takes the time to let me know that they read the book, whether that's an email or a review. I only write because I want people to read what I wrote, and knowing that anyone at all has taken the time to do that makes me happy. It's not going to be a book for everyone--no book is--and so I really appreciate knowing that of all the books someone could have read, they decided to give mine a shot.
- What is the target audience of Blackbird?
I think there's a lot of crossover between various audiences. It's certainly going to have some appeal to fans of other literary thrillers like Gone Girl, You, and The Lovely Bones, but it's also got a lot of edge to it and a heavy dose of dark humor, which pushes it into the same territory as books like Fight Club and American Psycho. A lot of people have classified it themselves as horror, and there's certainly elements of that in the novel as well--no killer clowns hiding in basements, but plenty of horrific things like we're having to deal with right now. Mass murders, unexplained motives, conspiracies, and so on. I don't necessarily provide any answers, but people who are interested in exploring those parts of society will certainly find something here worth reading.
- How would you advertise Blackbird to potential readers?
Blackbird is an exploration of the darker side of human nature and modern society, how we interact with one another, what we value, and what we fear--especially about ourselves. The characters within travel across America, but I think a lot of the themes are universal and are things we all have to grapple with on a regular basis: religion, violence, politics, relationships, and so on. Real life is messy, and Blackbird is likewise messy. If you like dark, challenging books where there aren't any winners or losers, or if you're a fan of shows like Mr. Robot, Game of Thrones, or Breaking Bad, I think you'll be right at home.
- What are you currently working on? What can readers expect next from you?
I am currently editing a novel about a group of people who all hear voices in their heads, and their road trip across America trying to solve a murder that one of them might have committed. It's sort of a cross between Scooby Doo and The X-Files. If I for some reason don't finish that next, then the next one in line after that is a Nordic-themed comedic fantasy novel that pokes fun at traditional RPG conventions like dungeon-crawling. Sort of like if Terry Pratchett had been the lead writer of Skyrim. If I'd have known a few years ago that Thor: Ragnarok was coming out this month I might have tried to time it so I was releasing that novel instead of Blackbird!
- Is there anything you'd like to add?
You can read a sample from the book online at https://www.ibelieveincondiments.com and you can read more about what I'm working on at https://www.mfiegel.com, where I occasionally blog. For more about other stuff I've worked on in the past, you can also check out my home page at https://www.aeonite.com. I'm also a regular on the Discord server known as Writer's Block so if you find your way there feel free to say hello.
Finally, if you'd like to pick up Blackbird or learn more, check it out on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Blackbird-Novel-Michael-Fiegel/dp/1510723552 or add it on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32718060-blackbird. Thanks!