Underneath: a merfolk tale, is captivating right from the start.
It takes the reader on a journey through secret societies, conspiracy, investigation, parental love, and coming-of-age. [Click here to read an excerpt.]
The author, Michelle Arzú is a graphic designer who lives in Guatemala City, Guatemala. A driving force behind her writing is, ‘what-if’ curiosity about first contact with an intelligent species.
I first found Michelle on Writeon (an Amazon story-lab). Her work in progress (Underneath) was trending like a tsunami. Wanting to find out what the buzz was about, I settled in for a long read and quickly discovered why she had gained so many enthusiastic readers.
Arzú tells a unique story. It’s about an injured merman who washes up on a beach. He is a member of one of New York’s elite families. Confined to a hospital bed, the merman is not talking no matter what anyone tries.
Arzú has a strong narrative voice. She has a solid command of plot structure and pacing and she’s not afraid to think outside of the box.
Her debut novel, The Librarian, was chosen as a Writeon staff pick in August of 2014 (currently available on Amazon). It’s a short story about a woman whose husband – a college professor – has been apprehended by the military because he’s suddenly become highly radioactive.
Wanting to know more about the person behind the magic pen, I asked Michelle if she’d answer a few questions. I know you will enjoy learning more about this creative story teller…and you’ll be glad that I introduced you to your next good read!
Do you have a typical writing schedule?
I’m a night owl. However, Nanowrimo has taught me that any fifteen minutes in the day are valuable, so I’ve learned to write at lunch time in the office. You will never catch me writing in the morning, though.
As a graphic designer, what aspects of your work do you most enjoy? Do parts of it spill over into your writing?
I love challenging projects, and I love to see my work displayed on billboards in the city, or printed somewhere other than the office. Designers work on deadlines, so that has helped me to be disciplined in writing my stories. I’m lost without deadlines.
What is the best advice you have ever received about writing?
Let me tell you a little story about the worst advice I ever received about writing:
When I was about twenty, I had been writing for four years and an older friend told me I shouldn’t start writing until I knew what I was doing. Until I had life experience. Thinking that made perfect sense, I didn’t write for the next six months, and I can honestly tell you something died inside of me. Finally, my brother asked me why I was following advice that was obviously making me unhappy. I returned to writing the next minute.
So, the best advice?
Everything else will come with time.
What kinds of activities do you like to do when you aren’t working or writing?
I love gaming, especially Zelda and recently Splatoon. I’ve been known to get lost in a good story, be it books, or a TV series.
First Contact themes: What influences contribute to your interest in this topic?
My favorite theme in stories is a double identity. Spy stories, princes as commoners, superheroes, fairy tales, and of course, aliens. What I love the most is the reveal part, when the secret is told. First Contact stories have that element of the unknown. They are filled with what if’s and have all the ingredients for everything to go wrong fast.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many first contact stories where the aliens don’t want to invade us. I decided to write about that. I love the whole idea of aliens hiding among us.
Investigation captive / study scenarios: What books, TV shows or personal experiences shaped your skill in creating these tense, edgy scenes?
I’m a diehard fan of the TV show Roswell (1999 – 2002). That’s basically teenage aliens without a clue about where they came from, hiding in plain sight. They run from the FBI a lot!
Over the years, I’ve picked several ideas from different places, from cartoons like Batman the animated series, to dramas like ER, and then I add my own logic to it. Would the military really shoot the only enemy captive and source of information they have? If you know you’re going to a hostile planet, what precautions would you take?
And of course, research. There is a lot of US jurisdiction stuff you wouldn’t believe. It’s a tangle when it comes to first contact scenarios, not to mention the medical/biological questions. At some point, you realize you need to focus on the characters and the scene, but if you mention details, they better be the right details.
Describe the series of decisions that led you to independently publish your book(s).
I’ve written a lot of stories over the years, always thinking of them as a hobby, something to share with friends. But when I finished The Librarian, I knew I had something I could publish. The problem was that the story has less than 20K words, which was a hard sell. Everywhere I looked they wanted either shorter than 7k or longer than 50k.
So, I started researching self-publishing. Being a graphic designer I could do the cover and interiors. Fortunately, I have an American friend who edits my manuscripts. No matter how good my English might be, it never compares to a native’s English.
Now that I have Underneath, A Merfolk Tale with over 100k words, I’ve also looked into the long process of searching for an agent and selling the manuscript. Since I’d still have to market my book (the hardest part of the whole process for me) and have to wait for months, if not years, to find someone willing to invest in me, I’d rather take that route myself. I might never sell thousands of books, but at least I’m in complete control of everything.
Writeon: What aspects of working in a ‘read-as-you-write’ forum work well for you? Does it create challenges? Over time, has the way you use the site changed?
The best thing about “read-as-you-write” is that you learn how to do cliffhangers. If you want people to come back next month when you have the next part, you better leave them wanting.
Feedback is a double-edge sword: some people tell you how good your work is, and some will tell you how much you’re messing things up, and to fix it a certain way. Somewhere in the middle of that scale, is valuable insight that makes your story better.
The thing is, you will never please everyone, and not everyone will tell you what’s wrong with the story (either because they don’t really know, or they don’t want to offend). The real challenge is to know your story well enough to keep it from getting hijacked. Take the suggestions that make sense, and leave everything else behind.
Thank you, Michelle for taking the time to chat and to share.
Here’s where you can find out more;
Follow M.N. Arzú:
More work by this author: The Librarian – Book Review