I met a lot of people in college and little did I know that one of them (so far!) would emerge an author writing books that would blow my mind. Accepted into the quarter-finals - top 250 submissions - of Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award, The Book was met with rave reviews. Equally impressive is The Muse of Eduard Manet, the first in an exciting trilogy called the Time Chronicles of Emily Porterfield. It is my honor to present a two-part interview with author Michael Clifford.
Thanks for letting me interview you, Mike!
In The Book you explore a dystopian version of Chicago while The Muse of Edouard Manet is historical fiction with a bit of time travel. Was either genre more enjoyable to write?
I'll always have better memories associated with The Muse of Edouard Manet. It was my first *real* novel and so, I took my time. The Book was a journey but there was a lot of sadness associated with it. I was mourning my father and knew exactly what would happen in the novel as it progressed. When I started Muse, I was at a great stage in my life and there were a lot of places I wanted to explore in the first draft. Each day was enjoyable. I researched for two years to understand 19th century Paris and became an expert on a lot of topics - Impressionism, Edouard Manet, art conservation, Einstein's theories on time travel, etc. My wife was amazed, seeing me captivated by scholarly articles. But although my book is fantasy, it was important for me to keep the story as realistic as possible. If there was time travel, it had to be consistent and self-sustained. So much of that genre is built on rules that don't make sense. Rules that the author invented for the sake of the plot. It should be the other way around. My book allows those people, the logically-distracted reader, to finally exhale and give time travel a chance again.
Muse is Mainstream Fiction, so it covers a lot of genres - Romance, Fantasy, History, Science, Murder, Suspense, Mystery, Art History and much more. The best aspect is that (to borrow from Gaston Leroux, author of The Phantom of the Opera), my novel is "Faction". Rather than create the character of Edouard Manet, I studied the real person, devouring every book I could find on him. I then recreated him in full and molded my story around HIS character. Just as I had used the details in his paintings, I did not construct something within the story that didn't already exist. I think rules are important with writing. I make my own and stick to them.
Mainstream Fiction with daubs of Faction is more enjoyable to write because it's like going to a huge barbecue where there's all these different grills going and food being passed and so many differently flavors to savor and tastes to enjoy. Everything you could want and fit awkwardly on a paper plate, right before your eyes. With care, the meal can be amazing. These elements gain prominence with each subsequent novel. Muse was initially written to be a stand alone piece, but my wife wouldn't have it! She wanted to know what happened to the characters and how time travel could affect them all. Thus The Time Chronicles of Emily Porterfield was outlined and written.
I'm sure you've heard it a lot, but your wife is right! I couldn't agree with her more, and I can't wait to read the next installments of Emily's story. :) But moving on, are your reading tastes as varied as your writing?
I'll read anything. Especially if it's an audio book. I am very aural in nature and I focus better with an audio book. When I read from a book, I hear my own voice. It's good for an author to hear voices different than their own (did I just write that?). Silly. I usually try to get through 8-10 books a summer, but if it's audio and I'm working out, sky is the limit.
Which authors would you say have most inspired or influenced your writing?
Michael Crichton. He mixes science, mystery, intrigue and deep character-driven plots. He also weaves fact with fiction. After reading Jurassic Park as a kid, I watched an interview where he said that scientists were close to discovering the ability to clone dinosaur cells. I remember thinking, "How cool! This story could actually happen?" If you look at Muse and The Book, you'll see that (within the framework of the story) I set them up to be "possible". More rules, I guess.
The Book contains multiple references and quotes from other books and literary sources. At what point in constructing the novel did you gather them? Were there any that you wanted to include that were left out?
I knew I wanted some of the quotes when I started. Books that had an interesting past, regardless of their content. There also were serendipitous times during the writing process. Once, I played "book roulette". I went to the library, walked the aisles, pulled out a book by W. Somerset Maugham with a relatable title and opened it up. The first page I saw had someone reading a book. The quote was perfect, so I used it. I always knew that I was going to use The Catcher in the Rye, because I wanted my main character to get his name from a once well-read novel. A surly critic once told me that they didn't want to read a book about a character whose name is Holden with the surname of the author. I chose to give Holden my last name because he is a combination of me and my father (who is also named Michael). My father passed away just before I was about to write The Book, so it's sort of a "grieving process" novel. After his funeral, I dove into the favorite books of my youth which included Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. From day one I knew Fahrenheit would be included because I wanted my main character to share the same experience that Bradbury had given his - to be surreptitiously reading a forbidden book in the private comforts of his home. I thought that by using Bradbury's novel, it would be a nice homage to the man. There are other reasons I included some of my quotes, but I'm leaving some questions unanswered! Other quotes left out? I wanted to include some Michael Crichton and Stephen King, but I didn't want too many quotes cluttering the narrative.
Pop quiz - in one of the quotes I included, there is a single word that is different than the original text. And there's also one novel I included that doesn't exist.
On that note, I'm going to go do some searching through my copy of The Book, and try to come up with an answer! Part two of this interview will be coming soon!