This interview was so interesting I couldn’t bear to shorten it, so I’ll let Mike and Brandon tell you the *whole* story today and Friday. Thanks so much, guys!
NOTE: my questions are in white, Mike's answers are in blue, and Brandon's are in green
Mike Lynch (on the right) currently resides in San Jose, CA with his wife, Kathleen, and two children. He graduated from San Jose State University in 1986 with a B.A. in History, and San Jose Christian College in 1994. Mike has written Dublin, a book chronicling the history of Dublin, CA. Published by Arcadia Press, it was released in 2007. In March 2009, Mike’s first novel, When the Sky Fell, was released by Silver Leaf Books. Mike has also published short stories in several magazines, including “Surf’s Up,” a story awarded “Best of Show” in the Residential Aliens 2007 flash fiction contest. His latest novel, After the Cross, took first place in the Dead Robots Society’s 2008 1st chapter writing contest, and his latest short story, “Beyond Horizon’s Edge,” took 1st place in the 2009 Preditors & Editors Reader’s Poll.
Brandon J. Barr (on the left) was born and raised in Redlands , California where he lives with his wife, Amanda. He graduated from California Baptist University in 2004 with a B.A. in English. Brandon began writing fiction in 2003. Since then he has published several short stories in magazines such as: Gateway Science Fiction, Revelation: The Magazine of Apocalyptic Art and Literature, Nova Science Fiction Magazine, Haruah: Breath of Heaven, Ray Gun Revival, Christian Sci-Fi Journal, and Residential Aliens.
Before we start the interview, are there any *fun facts* we should know about you?
BB: By the time I was six I had successfully kissed almost every girl in my neighborhood. Cooties never bothered me.
ML: When I was in high school I learned how to ride a unicycle and juggle, though I’ve never had any aspirations to run off to the circus. Those clowns are a little creepy.
What is your book about?
When the Sky Fell is about one man’s journey who must overcome his past to save humanity’s future.
Set in 2217, Commander Frank Yamane is the captain of the stellar cruiser, Corona. Having been in the military for most of his life, he has experienced a number of tragedies, including the death of his beloved wife, Liana. But it is these same experiences that have also prepared him for the day when the survival of humankind is at stake.
When an armada of 1000 Deravan vessels is detected at the edge of the solar system heading straight for Earth, Star Force Command sends every available ship it has to make a stand at Mars. Outnumbered, outclassed, and outgunned, their plan to stop the Deravans fails, leaving our world at the mercy of an enemy that has shown them none.
Faced with the planet’s imminent destruction, Commander Yamane has no choice but to seek the help of the Antarans, an alien civilization he defeated in a war a decade before. Though they have every reason not to come to Earth’s rescue, he sets forth on a desperate journey to the Antaran home world, knowing that the survival of mankind is hanging by a thread.
Where did you come up with the idea, and how long did it take to write?
ML: I have been a fan of science fiction since I was a kid. Something about space ships flying off to other worlds and meeting strange aliens ignited my imagination. It is only natural that this kind of influence seeped into my thoughts when I first decided to write a novel. As to the story itself, in a classic “what if’ scenario, I wondered what it would be like if an alien armada 1000 ships strong was discovered heading towards Earth and we had to stop them before they could destroy it—and thus the story was born.
In its initial incarnation the story took several months for me to write. Mind you, this was on an old-fashioned manual typewriter back in 1981, and the home computer, which was just becoming available to the public, was too expensive for me to afford. As I read through one typed page after the other, I soon discovered the manuscript was filled with so many spelling errors and plot elements that needed changing, I felt overwhelmed at the thought of revising the entire story, and so I shelved the whole thing and moved on with my life.
As the years passed however, thoughts of the story would pop up in my head from time to time, and so when I finally bought a computer of my own in 1996, I dusted off my novel and started plowing through what I soon discovered to be laughable dialogue and poorly developed characters. After several months of hard work, a halfway decent story began to emerge. But in so doing, I had created a 650-page monstrosity. Again, the thought of editing something I knew was way too long felt overwhelming, and so I shelved the manuscript again. I then spent the next nine years polishing the story off and on, trimming it down where I could.
When I felt my story was finally in publishable shape, I went to the Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference in 2005. One of editors I met there thought my novel showed promise, and asked to see the entire manuscript. After a year of waiting, I received the bad news that the publisher decided to pass. I went to Mt. Hermon the following year, but the people I showed it to felt the Christian Science Fiction market was too limited, and they also passed. It was at this point I seriously contemplated quitting. But before I did I wanted to give it one last chance, and contacted another Christian science fiction author I recently met on the Internet—Brandon Barr.
BB: Ironically, I was born the same year he wrote the novel...1981. Well, I was deeply honored when Mike approached me about co-authoring the novel, and over a phone conversation agreed to take on the task. I had exclusively written short stories up to that point, and a novel had always felt daunting, but I leapt into the task. Mike told me to make it feel like my own, and I did. I spent two and half intensive months going through the novel twice, and then it was time to send it off to the publishers.
Tell me about your working relationship. Why did you decide to collaborate? And what are the nuts and bolts like: do you divide tasks, or work on the same passages? What strengths and weaknesses do you each bring to the table? How do you edit each others' work, and determine when something's finished? How do you handle disagreements?
ML: Like myself, Brandon had strong interest in science fiction. It also helped that our writing styles were similar to each other’s. In a kind of roll of the dice, I asked him if he would be interested in re-editing the entire novel, and as compensation for his efforts, I made him a co-author. My gamble paid off since we found a publisher not long after he whipped When the Sky Fell into shape.
Brandon and I kind of stumbled our way through the collaboration process at first, but over time, have developed a good system that works well for the two of us. Since finishing Sky, Brandon and I have collaborated on two other novels, and are presently working on our next writing venture.
We usually start the process as a kind of pitching session. One of us has a couple of ideas for a story, which is offered to the other. We pick the one that seems the most interesting to the two of us, and then start working out story details, plot points, characters, the tone of the story, etc. This usually works out to be an 8-10 page outline.
At this point it’s time for us to get started on the novel. Typically, one of us writes the first two chapters of the book. If it’s me, I then send them to Brandon. He spends a week or so editing the chapters before sending them back to me to get my comments. When we’re both happy with the revisions, Brandon writes the next two chapters. He then sends them to me to get my response, and so on. When the entire novel is finally done, we then go through the entire process again, changing whatever we feel needs revising, until we both feel the story is as good as it can be. At this point we forward the manuscript to several writing friends so they can tell us what they think works and what doesn’t. Once we’ve incorporated their suggestions into the story, we read through the manuscript one more time just to make certain the story is exactly the way we want it. Once we’re both satisfied, we finally send the novel to our agent, who then forwards it to perspective publishers.
One of the things I appreciate about having a writing partner is knowing that Brandon expects my very best when it comes to the story. If I submit something that is deemed inferior, I will hear about it, but in a good way. Of course, the same is true the other way around. As you would expect, we run into a differences of opinion about the story from time to time, such as a way a character might react, or how a particular scene should be written. One of the things we agreed upon from the beginning is that we have the other’s permission to change anything we see fit. Nothing is sacred or off limits. In most of the cases, the other writer sees the value of the change, and usually agrees to it. There have only been very few times when one of us has put our foot down on something, and is unwilling to budge. When that happens, we offer explanations why that part of the story should remain unchanged. In the end, we both realize the story must come first, and whatever we put to paper is for the benefit of the reader, and not ourselves.
BB: Mike put it well. Iron sharpens iron. The story is strengthened by the clashing of our swords. It is nice having another writer just as invested in the story as you are who can tell you when something isn’t working. We both feel God has brought our writing skills together (very serious about that!). Not just anyone can work this intensely on a shared project and stay friends. A story becomes your baby. How common is it for two directors to co-direct a movie together? Or how often do two artists collaborate on the same painting? Through writing together, God has taught me a lot about patience, character, teamwork, perseverance, and dedication. And I know God’s going to continue to deepen me in those things.
Your cover is so compelling! Is there a special story behind that?
ML: Brandon and I both realized the cover really needed to stand out. In some ways, the cover is more important than the story itself since that is what often determines if someone is going to buy the book or not. And so I set about getting the best artist I could find, but one that wasn’t going to break the bank. To make a long story short, I know an artist, Glenn Kim, who works at Pixar Animation Studios, the people who brought you The Incredibles, Cars, and Wall-e. After a quick e-mail, he agreed to do the cover, later admitting to me that he had wanted to do a sci-fi book cover for a long time. Over the next two months, we talked about the story, what the ships looked like, and the scene we wanted depicted on the cover. From the beginning, I wanted the cover to capture people’s attention to moment they saw it, and so we decided on a very dramatic scene in the story. I think Glenn did a fantastic job, and am very pleased with the results. I even included a page on my website that is devoted to all the artwork Glenn did for the book.
On Friday the interview continues with the nuts and bolts: agents, publishers, marketing etc.