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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

GUEST INTERVIEW WITH MICHELL PLESTED, AUTHOR OF MIK MURDOCH, BOY SUPERHERO


I JUST FINISHED READING MICHELL PLESTED'S YA NOVEL, Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero. Despite my editing Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales (a YA anthology published two years ago through Edge Publishing), I don't usually choose YA books to read for pleasure. This time, I'm glad I did. Once again, I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed reading a YA novel. I loved it because not only did it make me laugh (and cry), it was a refreshing and quick read that reminded me of what it is to be young. I wish I'd had this book to share with my own boys when they were little. Here are the questions I put to Michell:

1. To start off, please give us a short description of the novel. To what age is the book targeted? Was it your intention for the book to be read by that age group, as well as parents who might read the book aloud to their children? Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero is the story of an eight year-old boy who decides to become a superhero to protect his home town of Cranberry Flats. The book is intended for ages 8 - 13 but it's been enjoyed by much younger children (read aloud by parents) and much older people. The oldest person I've heard from was 55 years-old who enjoyed the book. 

2. What was your inspiration for the book? I read a lot of comic books when I was young. I always wanted to have super powers of my own. This story has been percolating in my mind since I was a student in high school. When it was time to write the story, I used personal experiences, stories told to me by my family and my own imagination to create the story and world of Mik Murdoch. 

3. The novel is set in the small town of Cranberry Flats. Is Cranberry Flats based on a real location? What is your personal experience of small farming towns? Cranberry Flats is meant to be an every town with a strong influence from my home town. While I don't ever say it’s in Alberta (again, every town), the prairies definitely influenced the setting. I grew up on a farm outside of Ponoka, Alberta and went to school there. I spent a lot of time walking around the town and know it very well. 

4. As much as you engage young readers with fun plot elements that will appeal (tree forts, caring for a pet, wanting to be a superhero), you also deal with difficult themes – bullying and its roots, poverty, criminal activity, and delinquent behavior.  Did you have these issues in mind when you started writing the book? Why these particular concerns? When I was writing the novel, I wanted there to be an element of realism to it. I didn't want it to be just about silliness. Kids can see through that from a mile away. There had to be story lines that would resonate with reader, so I had to give some thought to what kids see. Bullying was number one on the list. The criminal part was a natural fit with Mik being a superhero. Delinquency found its way into the story naturally. 

5. For only being eight, turning nine years-old, Mik is a wonderful character. He’s inventive, brave, compassionate, and protective of his family and town. I love the fact that he learns some valuable lessons along the way, ie. honesty is the best policy (when he realizes he needs to confess to his parents about his involvement in rounding up the Halloween candy bandits), a good deed is its own reward (when he uses his own birthday money to provide food for Ed and Lucy Clancy and their baby), and to never give up (when he and Miss Purdy fall into a cave and can’t get out). Did you set out to write about these things as a way to encourage young people to act honestly, bravely, and with compassion? Is this your way of providing an example? Mik is the kid I wanted to be when I was growing up. In many ways, he’s the person I want to be now. I didn't want the story to be preachy. I wanted it to be fun and inspirational for whoever reads it. I wanted to show that good deeds can be their own reward, but there are costs to taking risks, as well. 

6. I found the book extremely funny in places. I loved Mik discovering what happens when he microwaves bugs, or when he pokes a zombie and it turns out to be Mr. McGrady taking a nap. I’m sure most young readers will find the farting and oil-pooping steers hilarious. Kids and adults find different things funny. How do you choose what to include? How do you set things up so they’re funny? One of the things I learned when I was writing Mik Murdoch is that when you’re young, everything is new. I thought back to some of my first experiences and how serious they seemed at the time, but funny when I look back on them. I put those stories in for multiple reasons: as a bit of a lesson for those youth who haven't run across the problem, as a laugh for people who have seen something like it before, and to show Mik’s innocence. The microwave oven scene is a favourite of mine. Just before it happens, the audience is already groaning and anticipating the punch line, which is fun. When I write humour, it’s usually situational. You and I would know that Mr. McGrady is taking a nap. A boy with Mik’s imagination automatically thinks he's dead. The difference in perspective—Mik's and the readers—is where the humour comes out. 

7. The major fantasy element in the book is when Mik and Miss Purdy, the librarian, discover the Migitak Cave of Magic. Are the Migitaks based on a real First Nations people? Does an actual First Nations myth of a magical cave that bestows magical powers on whoever can find it, exist? The Migitaks are not a real First Nation's people, but they are based on many of the tribes I have read about and have encountered personally. I didn't want to use an actual indigenous tribe because I never want to be disrespectful of any one people. I created the Migitaks to have the same sense of love of nature and stewardship of the natural world that actual First Nations people have as a way to honour them all. The magical cave is purely a story construct, although I know that the mythos of the magical cave has been used before in folklore and legend.  

8. You leave some parts of the plot unfinished, which makes me wonder what more is going to happen to Mik. You’ve just finished penning the sequel. Will we see more of the Turkey Men and The Boss? Miss Purdy and her new Superhero powers? Mik and the magical red berry given to him by the Migitak Elder? I purposely left some story threads dangling, because Mik's story is far from over. In fact, there are plans for at least five more books in the series. The magical red berry will be important in the next story. Will Mik get a power from the berry? Possibly. The Big Boss may, or may not, show up again. The Turkey Men were hired goons who can be replaced by pretty much anyone. You also asked about Ms. Purdy. I'd like to write a series about her one day. I just need the time to write it. She might show up in future Mik Murdoch books, but I don't have any concrete plans for her at this time. The character you should really be asking about, and who shows up in the future, is the Migitak Elder. The book I just finished writing, Mik Murdoch: The Power Within, is about consequences. While protecting Cranberry Flats and its citizens, Mik gains the attention of a vicious flash mob and is forced into hiding. The thing about being a boy superhero is, there's always some mystery or another that needs investigating, no matter where he is. Will Mik unravel the mysteries he's faced with and be able to go home? Only time, and a lot of luck, will tell.

(Thanks, Michell. If you'd like to read Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero, or buy it for a young reader who will enjoy it, you can purchase it from Five Rivers Publishing here. Mik Murdoch: The Power Within will be released some time next year.)

Michell's Bio: Michell (Mike) Plested is an author, editor, blogger, and podcaster living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He writes in multiple genres, particularly Science Fiction, Fantasy, and YA Adventure. He's the host of several pod-casts including Get Published, (2009, 2011 and 2013 Parsec Finalist), the SciFi/Comedy Galaxy Billies (Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets The Beverley Hillbillies) and Boyscouts of the Apocalypse (Zombie horror meets boy scouts), a part of the Action Pack Podcast. His debut novel Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero was published August 1, 2012 and is on the Prix Aurora shortlist ballot for Best YA Novel. His anthology, A Method to the Madness: A Guide to the Super Evil was released in April, 2013. 

Next Post: Hybrid Books: it's a Fantasy, it's an Historical, it's a Noir...Just What Genre is It? And is it Saleable?

Stay tuned.

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