MS: I've always been a reader and I liked to make up stories myself. Putting the two things together, I began writing short stories when I was twelve—but I was also drawn to science. I decided that I would be a physicist when I was fourteen, and that's what I did for almost 30 years—research and advanced technology development. My first efforts were in support of Earth Sciences, Lunar Science, Relativity validation, and precise orbit determination for special satellites. Later I worked on developing sensor systems for the department of defense, one of these was used extensively in Afghanistan to give soldiers advanced knowledge of where they would be going in three dimensions. But I always read and I always wrote.
Around 2011, I started focusing on writing more, doing character studies and short works, but one of these took off and in six weeks I'd written an 85K word first draft of a book called The Balance. Afterward, I missed the writing and the characters, so I sat down and dreamed up The Boy Who Ran, writing it's first draft in about 3 weeks, although I'd done some research on the era beforehand.
I like writing because it lets me be creative—that's why I write fiction. Writing served me well as a physicist, too. You need to convince people that there's a compelling need for what you're proposing to do to get the funding, and later you write papers about the research—when it's possible.
In 2013, I decided not to pursue physics any longer and took up writing as a full-time activity. I retired early and moved back to Colorado, where I started a publishing company. Other great people help me, editors, and designers, all of whom work in the industry, either freelancing for the big 5 or working for the big 5 directly and moonlighting on the side. I think that collaboration helps to make us better.
MS: I knew what theme I wanted to convey: overcoming obstacles and seeking perfection. There were two inspirational characters for this, one came from the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull and the other from Akira Kurosawa's 1956 film Seven Samurai—the character of Kyūzō, a dedicated swordsman. Both of these characters fit the bill, people seeking perfection, but the boy isn't quite as single-minded as they were, he also wants to become one of The People. These characters were just reference points, not something I copied. I saw them in my mind as I started writing, but the boy rapidly diverged and developed into his own character.
I wanted to explore some other themes, such as people being prejudiced against someone because of their preconceived notions about others—this worked both ways, because the boy also didn't feel that being a part of the village was very important, either. But people change in the story—I thing the best stories are about change, they teach us something. The story continued with physical challenges and the interplay of different characters. It was fun to write and I was targeting the writing for middle grade readers as I wrote. That doesn't mean I dumbed down the writing. I respect my readers too much to do that, but I did simplify the dialog, keeping it fairly formal and straight forward, but I do challenge the younger readers a little with the language and imagery.
Overcoming obstacles is a big part of the book and a big part of life, too. As a scientist and later as an engineer, I saw instances where people, gave up when things got tough. But if what you're doing was easy to do, and everything is perfect, then what you're doing may not be worth spending the limited time we have on this planet doing. This is something I used to convey to the younger engineers and physicists I worked with and I think it's a valuable lesson. The boy knows this instinctually, as comes across in the book.
The story is set in the mid-archac period in North America, 6000 years ago. A time when there were no horses in North America and two or three thousand years before the bow was used here.
BBB: Tell us about the cover and how it came about.
MS: The story contains some light allegorical elements and these are reflected in the cover image. The cover depicts the boy and the animal character White Flank in a way that's carefully planned. One of the readers commented on the cover saying that the story was contained within the image—she was right, to an extent. I pictured what it should look like and described it to my friend Paola. She lives in Rome and drew a couple of different sample sketches so that I could select one, then she rendered it and emailed to to me.
MS: I'm going through a combination revision / copy edit on The Balance, working with Benjamin Allen, who also works for Hachette Book Group in the daytime, he's been the person I've been bouncing ideas off of for evolving the plot over the past year. I wrote The Balance first, but I've been through 23 versions of the story now. It's a Young Adult story set in a dystopian world about 200 years after a global thermonuclear war. The main character is a rather complex girl / woman. She's seventeen years old, but she's also an unwitting end product of a centuries-long genetic engineering effort. Because of the abilities she has, she's lived lives through other people around her, so inside she has the experiences of a middle aged woman, except when she needs to interact with people as herself she's more her own age. She lives in the Land, which is ruled by the Council of God, and they would execute her if they knew what she was. She has trouble hiding her nature, which makes for an interesting dynamic. But the story is larger than this. It's an epic tale revolving around a power struggle between the people who developed her and the Council. Ultimately, I think the story will require three volumes to tell completely, but the book stands on its own.
BBB: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
MS: They can visit my web site. It contains information on The Boy Who Ran, including a sample from the book and something about the era, 6000 years ago in North America. There are also a couple of unpublished chapters. The site also has a page for The Balance. That page contains an introduction and a number of sample draft chapters from the book. Another page describes the next two books I plan to publish—I AM (a Sci-fi story) and Disobedience (A supernatural thriller). There also a page about myself, with links to my Facebook, Twitter, and GoodReads pages and a news and comments page. The Facebook site still has photos and descriptions from the two and a half months I spent in Rome this past winter. I was researching the period from 1880 to 1920 for the book Disobedience. The web site is: http://michaelselden.com.