I’m so excited because today it’s our great pleasure to have Michael A. Armstrong on the blog. He’s the genius behind the upcoming novel, Truck Stop Earth, published by Perseid Press. Even though he’s extremely busy, he managed a few moment to sit down for an interview. I loved getting to know him better and I know you will, too. So, please give Michael a warm welcome. Take it away, Michael:
What is your writing process?
I think about what I’m writing as much as the actual fingers-to-keyboard writing. My novels are like icebergs: there’s a lot floating underneath that you don’t see beyond the written word. I’m constantly thinking about my current book or short story — sometimes, many books or short stories. When I start a novel I get a big fat journal and start making notes, some random, some focused. I have sections titled “setting” or “characters,” but I also have sections like “stuff that needs to happen.” I keep checking back to my journal constantly.
Truck Stop Earth took about five years to write. I worked on it in drib and drabs between my day job as a reporter at the Homer News. I finished the book during a residency with the Escape to Create program through the Seaside Institute. I stayed in a condo at Watercolor, a development near Seaside, Fla. Every morning I’d get up, have breakfast, and read the paper. About 9 a.m. I’d start writing, taking short coffee breaks and work until lunch. After lunch I would take a beach walk. Any problems or issues that came up in my novel I would puzzle out on the walk. Sometimes I just let my mind wander, not thinking about the book, which in a way also is thinking about the book. After my afternoon walk, I’d dive back into writing, writing until dinner. I put in a regular day, about six to eight hours of focused writing. In three weeks I wrote 20,000 words and finished the novel. In a perfect world, that would be my writing process. Write, walk on the beach, write.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
I don’t puzzle over names too much. I like odd and unusual names, or variations of normal names. Names should not get in the way of knowing and identifying characters. One trick I’ve always used is to make the sounds of character names different. There will only be one character whose name starts with “L,” for example, or not an Ike if there also is a Mike.
In After the Zap, though, I paid more attention to names than usual. In the post-nuke world I created, an electromagnetic pulse fried people’s brains. Most lost the ability to read and lost the concept of naming. They knew a word would identify who they were, but they didn’t understand why some words would be names and not others. My main character, Holmes Weatherby III, went around naming people. He understood that pieces of plastic or paper on them indicated their name, but he didn’t understand the concept of identification. Thus when he named a woman, she had a card for a vacuum cleaner salesperson on her, and so she became “Electrolux,” or “Lucy.”
Have you always liked to write?
Yes. The idea of contemplating the world through writing came to me at an early age. I had a grandmother, Anne Hughes Jander, who wrote, and she loved to tell stories to her grandchildren. That inspired my own wonky and weird imagination. I remember at the age of 10 in fourth grade being given the challenge of using that week’s spelling words in a story. My teacher, Gloria Parrino, read the stories aloud, so I got that little ego boost that sustains writers. I pretty much knew by age 15 that I would be a writer.
What are you working on now? What is your next project?
I have a short story, Asystole, that I’m finishing up. I’m troubled by the end and can’t quite figure that one out. I’m also working on a novel, Borderers, that involves Scottish Borderers made immortal in an arcane and very science-fictional way. The immortals get into a feud with each other and things get very nasty.
Do you have a favorite spot to write? What is it?
When we built our little 16-foot-by-20-cabin here in Homer on Diamond Ridge, I wrote in a corner of the cabin. Then I built a little 8-foot-by-12-foot office and wrote there. When we added on and expanded our cabin into a house with bedrooms and such, my wife and I each got an office. She has her art studio and I have my writing office. My writing desk has a little window that looks out on a meadow and forest and, if I squint, a hint of the Kenai Mountains beyond. I keep the curtain closed, though, so I don’t get distracted.
What secret talents do you have?
I’m a finder. If things get lost, I sometimes find them. I had a roommate who constantly lost his car keys. He’d fumble around for a few minutes, and then I would go over to a couch or shelf or wherever and hand him his keys. I just knew where he’d left them. I walk the beaches frequently here in Homer and have found many strange and unusual things like glass floats, cell phones, marine radios and cremated remains (still sealed in a box).
Do you have any scars? What are they from?
I have the usual assortment of faded scars from childhood injuries. The scariest scar is on my left chest, just above my heart, from where three years ago I got a pacemaker implanted. I got the pacemaker after passing out four times in one morning on Memorial Day 2013. It turned out I had vaso vagal syncope, a condition that causes you to pass out when the vagal nerve gets stimulated, like when I kept throwing up. I also have sick sinus syndrome and bradycardia. When I pass out, my heart rate drops very, very low, and then my blood pressure. All these things came together in a bizarre medical crisis. The fourth time I passed out, I flat lined and I went into systole for 53 seconds. In effect, I died. I like to say I went into the Big Black. All turned out well. After a medevac flight from my home in Homer, Alaska, to an Anchorage hospital, I got a pacemaker. It keeps my heart rate from falling below 50 beats per minute — and not dying.
What were you like as a child? Your favorite toy?
I’m the youngest child and the only boy with three older sisters. I was sick a lot. I also read like crazy. I had and still have a vivid imagination. I was that strange little kid who lived down the street that no one really understood. I got along well with other kids, though. They called me Professor.
My favorite toy was LEGOs. A German cousin gave me a starter kit. LEGO in the 1960s when I was growing up didn’t mean assembling something from a box that came in pieces and had a plan. You got all these random pieces and you built stuff on your own. I used to build tiny little starships.
What do you dream? Do you have any recurring dreams/nightmares?
I dream a lot about dead people. I have a recurring dream where I’m in the house I lived in Tampa, Fla. My dad is there, though he’s been dead since 1982. Other people are in the house, like family of the woman my dad married two months before he died. Sometimes I will see dead people in my dreams and I know they’re dead and they know they’re dead, but it’s as if they’re still alive. In one dream I saw my Uncle Warren, who has been dead since 1991, and I could touch and hug him. “But you’re dead,” I told him, and he said, “Well, I know that. So?”
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?
I have this tradition. When I turn a big decade, like 50, I go someplace foreign I’ve always wanted to visit. At 50, I went to Scotland. This year at 60, I went to Paris. When I was a boy I had an uncle who encouraged his nieces and nephews to study abroad in some place they spoke a foreign language. Uncle Owen would match up to $100 whatever we saved that year. At one point there was talk of colonies on the moon and how that might happen soon. I told Uncle Owen I wanted to study on the moon. So maybe when I turned 90 or 100, if I live that long, I can celebrate my birthday on the moon. I want to go to the moon. Antarctica would do as a second-best.
Title: Truck Stop Earth
Author: Michael A. Armstrong
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Aliens, UFO
Publisher: Perseid Press
Release Date: August 1, 2016
The mother of all alien bases. The big one, the megabase, the center of the Alien Occupation Government, the headquarters, the brain, the nerve center, the absolute pinpoint big base, right there, right in the hills above Della. Forget Roswell. Forget Machu Picchu. Forget Stonehenge and Tikal and all those alleged alien bases, abandoned every one of them. This was the big one, right now, the source of all my troubles, the world’s troubles, the whole solar system’s troubles. Right there.
Out there across the valley, shining across it like a beacon, was a big flat mountain. “Oly’s Mountain” I later heard it called, or Table Top, some said. I could feel it, feel the humming and the disruption of the ether right down to my bones. I didn’t even have to take out my little pocket detector that’s disguised as a Swiss Army knife. I knew, I just knew. And my butt chip burned like an exploded capsule of sulfuric acid. God damn, right there in the mountain — not on it, in it.
I heard kind of a humming up ahead, and I looked up and saw this weird green beam like a big cylinder of light rising up above me.
Standing in front of me was this Gray. I didn’t know of it as a Gray, of course, not then, but I’d seen pictures, because of that guy’s book he wrote about twenty years ago. Big snake head, big eyes, puny little body, pallid icky skin with that talcum powder dust like it had walked through an ash tray, and, of course, that silly gee-gaw infested ray gun Grays like to carry to impress people, but that looked so suck ass silly you had to laugh rather than be intimidated.
I’d heard stories, of course, and knew what was going to happen. Well, two things. Either the Gray would just shoot me outright, turn me into randomly reassembled atoms, or I would get sucked up into the mother ship. I looked up again at that beam of light, saw it slide along toward me, and then it sucked the Gray up, and it went zipping above along. I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the beam hit me, but I felt it, oh yeah, I felt it.
Actually, it felt kind of cool once I relaxed and enjoyed it. That first second scared the shit out of me, though. You know how it feels to jump off a high tower into the water, where you just keep falling and falling? The first second of being sucked into an alien tractor beam feels like that. The following second, or the next moment after the beam pulls you up and you leave the ground, once you’re in the beam, it’s way cool.
So I rose up in the beam, and it didn’t feel like I was flying, didn’t feel like I was falling. I just felt like I was standing on a big wad of jello, and then once the ride was over, there I was inside a big huge room. I stood there, not so much scared to move as figuring when you’d just got sucked up by an alien mother ship, and a Gray stood there with a strange weapon, silly or not, calm and reasoned introspection and a hesitancy to make any sudden moves might be a good idea.
“Welcome on board,” the alien then said with a man’s voice — actually, it sounded like Jimmy Carter, because of that recording on Pioneer 10, before they started expanding their vocal repertoire. “We’re just glad to have y’all visit us.”
Then I looked over and saw this incredibly gorgeous woman, I mean, a flat-out, gorgeous, tanned blonde, totally naked and with her hair spreading out in all directions like she was in the middle of a hurricane. Very Cosmopolitan. If she was alien, those fuckers had done a damn good job of faking a human, and if she was human, well, she either was incredibly lucky in the big genetic beauty contest or had one hell of a plastic surgeon.
“Don’t believe a word they say,” she said. “They’re just out to butt fuck you. And they’ll probably want us to have sex.”
“I can live with that,” I said. “I mean, the butt fucking,” I quickly added, because I didn’t want to come on too strong.
She laughed at that and walked toward me, her hair still whipping around her face, except when she got close to me I couldn’t feel a breeze. Her hand slid down the sides of my body, down my arms, my waist, and to my biking shorts. With a swift tug she yanked down my pants, raised an eyebrow when she saw I didn’t wear underpants, raised another eyebrow when she saw my Clinton big and throbbing and ready to tutor an intern, and then whipped me around.
“Close your eyes and think of England,” she said.
Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HN3JAJS
Michael Armstrong was born in Virginia in 1956, grew up in Tampa, Florida, and moved to Anchorage, Alaska in 1979. He has lived in Homer, Alaska, since 1994. He attended the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop and received a bachelor of arts from New College of Florida and a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage. His first novel is After the Zap. Michael’s short fiction has been published in Asimov’s, The Magazine of Science Fiction, Fiction Quarterly, and various anthologies, including Not of Woman Born, a Philip K. Dick award nominee, and several Heroes In Hell anthologies. His other novels include Agviq, The Hidden War, and Bridge Over Hell, part of the Perseid Press Heroes in Hell universe.
Michael has taught creative writing composition, and dog mushing. He is a reporter and photographer for the Homer News. He and his wife, Jenny Stroyeck, live in small house they built themselves on Diamond Ridge above Homer, which they share with an incredibly adorable labradoodle.
Social Media Links: