Author Interview: M. Clifford (part two)

Welcome back to my continued conversation with Michael Clifford, author of The Book and The Muse of Edouard Manet!  (In case you missed it, read Part One of this interview here!)

In The Muse of Eduoard Manet, your descriptions of art conservation and authentication appear really well researched. Is this a subject you studied for composing Muse or did you already have background knowledge?

One of the most important elements for me as an author is to ensure believability and character. Emily Porterfield works in the art conservation department? Then I work in the conservation department. The Art Institute granted me a special privilege in 2005 to allow me a chance to tour their conservation labs and offices - including the exam room with the x-ray machine! I asked them thousands of questions, got to see them working on paintings up close and modeled my written description of the space around their laboratory. After another five months of research, I felt I knew enough (if not too much) to make her character as true as she could be. I plan to always give my characters such accuracy. As a reader, I absolutely hate when I can tell that the topic is poorly researched or simply embellished upon because, "hey…it's fiction." Sorry dude. If you're writing on the topic, you better be well-read on the topic.

The Book explores the advantages of digital readers but also extols the virtues of the printed word. Do you have a Kindle, Nook, iPad, or eReader or do you prefer traditional books?

I am definitely one to embrace change. I love change. As a novelist, my mind runs in different directions when being introduced to change. The moment I noticed someone reading a book from a Palm Pilot ten years ago, I immediately envisioned the government altering the text without the reader being aware. BUT the technology is great and the convenience is staggering. I think that if I had too many books to choose from I may start a book and then want to jump to another before I'm finished. Knowing my tendencies, I'm sticking to paper for now. I do love paper books. There are a lot of us out there that still love reading from paper books. The way they smell. How, like us, they grow old and worn over time. The cover gets wrinkled. The pages dog-eared. I obviously touch on this topic in The Book and romanticize it for those who still love paper, but in reality...I don't really see a future without both paper and digital. I'm hoping my book will play a role in keeping paper books around, but I can't see bookstores going away. Used or New.

What projects are you currently working on?

The second and third novel in the Time Chronicles series, which I've recently decided to make a nine part set throughout the duration of my writing career. The first three cover Emily's life. The second three, her daughter's life and the final three span her grandson's life. I'm already intending on losing years of my own life to research, as it took me two years for Muse and another two-plus for The Opera Ghost and The Vindication of the Ripper. So don't wait until I'm finished with them to start the series...

My current project is called The Felinian which will be out in the fall. To put it plainly, I've created a new monster. There once was a time when a vampire was a simple ideas. And then Bram Stoker wrote Dracula. I'm hoping the same will be said of The Felinian. When people hear that it's a book about a "cat-woman" they say to themselves that the monster already exists. Sorry to disappoint, but not in the way I created her. The Felinian is a girl who discovers that she has powers. Just as vampires, she has a need to feed...on boys. And like her counterpart, the werewolf, these needs arise during the cycles of the moon, the tides and the circulating seasons. "Cat woman" has been heard of before. But the being I created is vastly different in all aspects. Comparing the batman-style "cat woman" to a Felinian is like comparing Count Chocula to Count Dracula.

I say it's a "new monster" because I give her a gothic backstory. There is a deep mythology that plays with the idea that they've existed for thousands of years. The 4-book saga takes place over the course of her four years in high school with a deeply Halloweenian setting. It's interesting to engage with this high school dynamic and the social awkwardness that comes with those years, following someone who is different and who stands out from the crowd. As puberty sets in and she discovers that she is a monster, we see why this change would make her life a nightmare - including the introduction of older Felinian, which gives me license to show different times in history. The Felinian plays to that alluring eternal life aspect that readers are drawn to with Vampires. Vampires never age and the same goes for Felinian - until they lose one of their nine lives. At which point they age dramatically. What's interesting is that you can have a 14 year old girl who looks 100 years old and vice versa. Sorry, I know I'm gabbing on about it, but it's what I'm working on right now and I'm excited!

The story is fantasy, but there is a lot of history and suspense and it's darker than you would expect. But not inappropriately dark for a high school novel. It's young adult but will be enjoyed by the older reader in the way that Stephanie Meyer's books are. I know that the market is flooded with Vampire stories so I decided that, rather than add to the pile, I wanted to create my own new pile. Just like all these YA novels that take place throughout a school year - each book is self-contained and enjoyable on its own and will relate to the entire series. I notice how much young adults are reading books like Harry Potter and Twilight. My novel is fresh, but not completely dissimilar to what one can find in the young adult section of the bookstore. I came up with this book because I wanted to encourage this desire to read. This sort of answers the next question, but most of the English teachers I've been speaking to over the past months share the same sentiment that young students aren't reading. I want to help them out anyway I can. To provide another outlet, catch young interest and encourage them to become life-long readers.

Anything else you'd like to share? Where can we find out more about your upcoming work, appearances, etc?

In the fall, I'll be having a tour of high schools across the US. If you teach English, send me a line and I'll try to fit you into the tour schedule!

My thanks to Lisa for the opportunity.  Please look me up for more information, to ask me questions about my books and find out what's coming next:

2 Response to "Author Interview: M. Clifford (part two)"

  1. Greg McConnell says:
    July 5, 2010 at 7:03 PM

    Another fun interview, Lisa. Keep up the great work!

    Mike, I'm really impressed with your work ethic (so many book projects!) and attention to detail (extensive research). Getting an inside look at the Art Institute's conservation labs and offices must have been a neat experience.

  2. M. or W.W. says:
    July 10, 2010 at 7:40 AM

    Hey Greg! Yes, I work on SO many things all at once. It works out great though -- if I get tired of working on one particular story, I can always skip to another. It keeps me working constantly! And another yes, getting into the conservation labs at the Art Institute was an amazing experience. It was essential for writing all my scenes that take place there so I'm really lucky that it worked out and I will definitely never forget it!

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