Today I’m talking with Michael C Bland, who writes science fiction novels that imagine a possible future.
Tell us something about your books.
The Price of Safety is a science fiction novel set 30 years in the future where technology is so interwoven in people’s lives that no crime goes unsolved. When Dray Quintero’s nineteen-year-old daughter commits a capital crime, he covers it up to save her life. That starts Dray on a perilous journey where he discovers the world is nothing like he thought it was.
Dray is the engineer who created this surveillance-heavy future, as he’d linked the hundreds of camera systems that blanket the country. But with his rebellious daughter’s life on the line, he struggles to find a way to defeat the very system he’d created.
What drives Dray is his family. He will do anything to protect his daughters—which is nearly impossible as the police and The Agency (a federal law enforcement agency) mark him as a danger to society.
The main themes of The Price of Safety are: how much privacy are we willing to give up for our safety? What price do we pay for the technology we have? And what would you do to protect your family? The future described in The Price of Safety is filled with incredible technology, but it comes with a heavy price.
What inspires you to write? Who are your favourite writers?
I want to entertain while telling stories with deeper meanings. This story reflects a possible future—one that is becoming more likely every day. Is it the one we want to have?
My favorite writers are Michael Crichton, Pierce Brown, and Blake Crouch. Crichton and Crouch reveal how science and technology can change our world—and threaten it. Brown’s series reflects a possible future of class oppression and rising up to overthrow those in charge. All three influenced me when I wrote The Price of Safety.
How do you start writing? Do you have a process or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I have to plan out the story in advance to keep the story focused. Otherwise, I stray down random alleys and never find my way back. In fact, it took over a year to outline The Price of Safety, partly to keep the story focused and partly because of the logic in my world. There were multiple times when I had to rip out sections of the story because it didn’t work based on the world I created. While it was painful, and I had to break into my bourbon more than once, I had to cut those sections to make the story work.
How has your writing process changed since you started writing?
The first time I tried to write a novel, I didn’t plan it out ahead of time…and it was a disaster. Since then, I learned story structure, character creation, pacing, and the other aspects that are needed in a novel. I took classes at the University of Iowa’s Summer Workshops, and I formed friendships with other writers. I took a very long journey to develop the skills I now have, and frankly I ignored advice of others, foraging ahead on my own instead. Only after I took classes, learned the nuances of writing, and developed relationships with other writers did my abilities improve.
How long does it normally take you to write, and what proportion of the time is spent doing what?
The Price of Safety took about two and a half years to complete. The first year consisted of planning out the story. The actual rough draft only took about three months, because by then I knew every aspect of the story and characters. Then came the editing side, which took over a year to complete. That was the most painful part, but the editing is what elevated the story.
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
The creation stage is the best. Everything is new, fresh, and brimming with possibilities. No idea is bad, no thought is crazy, even though I’m aware that most will be thrown away. But even though one idea may not be workable, it could trigger ideas that will work, which elevate the story in unexpected ways.
But crazy, fun, wild ideas can’t be experienced or enjoyed by readers until I create the actual story, which means digging into the nitty-gritty details, trudging through the editing, etc. It’s a lot of work, but if done right, every moment is worth it.
Do you involve other people in your writing, as collaborators or editors? How do you make this work?
Yes and no. One of the bests things I did was find someone from whom I could get honest, brutal feedback. Robert Kerbeck is a successful writer I met a few years ago. We agreed to swap pages on stories we were working on, and a friendship was born. Yet while we are friends, we don’t pull any punches when it comes to providing notes on each other’s work.
I also hired an editor to review the completed draft of The Price of Safety. And I engaged beta readers who gave me honest feedback about the story.
Yet even though I sought feedback from others, in the end it was my story. I had to decide what to utilize and what to ignore. It was challenging as there are no guidelines. There’s no way to know if a piece of advice elevates the story or not. In the end, writers have to decide what serves the story and what doesn’t. And hope for the best.
Do you have any writing tips you’d like to share with readers?
Find someone you can trust to give harsh, direct, and helpful feedback. Ideally, the person will be a fellow writer. Writing can be very solitary, so sharing drafts of a story, discussing plot and theme and character arcs, will elevate your skills (and reduce your frustration…until your story gets shredded because your clever allegory told via talking mushrooms doesn’t work, no matter what you do). You will also benefit when you edit others’ stories, seeing what works, what doesn’t, and how you can help them fix the story’s issues.
Anything else I haven’t asked you about?
I’ve been fortunate that The Price of Safety was named a Finalist by the Indie Book Awards in two categories (science fiction and thriller), and also by the National Indie Excellence Awards for New Adult Fiction. What I think resonates is how Dray and his family are the center of the story. Everything stems from him and his love for his kids. Yet it’s set in a futuristic world that is all too familiar. In fact, between Elon Musk’s company Neuralink working on neural implants, the precursor of datarings recently going on sale, and killer drones being developed by various nations, the future I described in The Price of Safety appears to be coming faster than I’d thought!
Thank Michael for telling me about your writing. You can find out more about Michael’s books on his website.