If you’ve browsed the About Me and have some questions, try these. Leave me a comment with a question and I’ll do my best to answer the appropriate ones (they don’t have to be serious, though).

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Where do you get your ideas from?
Do you outline or not? How extensive is your outline?
What is your writing process?
What all have you written?
You write Christian drama. Are your stories religious?
Chris Michaels is a pen name.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Forever ago. My first memory: I wanted to make Disney movies!

Yes, I grew up back in the “second golden age” of Disney animation and immediately wanted to be that guy who made those movies. I had no idea what that meant, and it was a problem that I couldn’t draw — or sing — or anything. I was a kid. That dream faded (mostly), and I went on to wanting to be a lot of other things: a teacher, a space alien, an astronaut, a professor, an archaeologist, a minister, and an artificial intelligence engineer. I realize now, that really meant I wanted to be a storyteller the entire time. And, all along the way, I continued to tell stories. I would even make entire movies in my head and act them out (every part at the same time) while running around like boys do: shooting phasers, scaling mountains, saving the world. Most people grow out of that. I remember doing it well into high school. Storytelling has always been a part of me, and I can’t imagine me without it.

However, there came a moment when it went from “hey, that’d be cool” to “I’m doing this!” That moment was in my undergrad when I started getting into drama. I started telling campfire-like stories on the spot at churches and conventions. I began reading like I’d never read before. Most important, I had a mentor who encouraged and challenged me. I wrote my first full-length draft (Forging an Empire) with a friend. I was hooked. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Everywhere. Mostly pink elephants on parade.

Honestly, this has never been my struggle. Ideas are easy when you train yourself to be looking for them all the time. Ask yourself, how can this be a story? What would I do here? Is this a scene? How would I write this differently? There are also a million writing prompt books. I have a few blog posts myself.

The trick isn’t in coming up with sparks; it’s in combining them into a fire. So, keep a journal of all the random little ideas: train jumps tracks, sister goes looking for lost brother, cowboy fights dragon, etc. Then, look at them all and start asking questions. How can you connect them? Would a sister looking for her lost brother come across a cowboy fighting a dragon? How? Why is the cowboy fighting a dragon? Ask questions. Answer questions. The story will present itself.

Do you outline or not? How extensive is your outline?

My first outline is an encyclopedia and is nothing like the finished story.

Like I mentioned above, I start with a conglomeration of scenes and ideas. The only way I could make any sense of them is to outline extensively. It also helps me to live in my story before actually writing it. In fantasy, there are also a lot of history, language, and world building items to consider. I would be lost without my outline. Not that the outline ever turns out remotely like the finished product. As I write, I explore new ideas. The outline is a guide. For those who read Phantom Hearts, the first outline didn’t have Cabbot or Skye in it!

Not everyone does it like this, and I’m jealous of those who can “just write.” In any case, their first draft is really just a skeleton. The amount of rewriting is always intense.

What is your writing process?

No secrets. Hard work.

Dream, plan, plot, draft, revise, critique, revise, repeat.

I start with a collection of really powerful (to me) scene or ideas. They aren’t connected really, so I start asking questions about them and expand it all into a storyverse. That leads to more questions and more answers, which grows and grows. Finally, there comes a point where I know my inciting incident and climax (because they mirror each other) and enough about the threads of the story to start a sequential outline. It has lots of holes and “insert magic stuff” here. Once I have that, I may do some character sketches or some voice exercises. Most often, I dive in. The beginning. All that white paper. I also write my first drafts on notebook papers (mostly). I don’t know why.

As I write, I pass drafts through friends, family, my wife, and writer’s circles. I’m never scared to go back and totally change everything if it’s best for the story.

All the while, I’m reading everything I can get my hands on. Early, it’s all about novels and nonfiction books that help me cement the world in my mind. Later, it may be read-a-likes or those whose voices I like. Finally, I read all the competitors at the moment; how can I make mine different?

For me, the most important things to remember are:

  1. Never marry an idea — you can use it in a different project. Do what’s best for story here and now.
  2. Being creative isn’t about having the best ideas. It’s about having the most and realizing most of them are trash.
  3. Your first idea will be what you saw on TV last night. The second is a little more original. It’s the third and fourth that you start seeing something new.
  4. Never give up. Never surrender!

What all have you written?

My goal was a million words. Probably past that now.

I have written a lot over my life, including:

  • A series of short love stories in high school (awful).
  • The first two books in a sci-fi saga about Atlantis (more awful) that was meant to be 15 books, my first novel.
  • The first two books in a mystery/fantasy for middle graders (I still have hopes for this one).
  • Three full length manuscripts that I am polishing/agenting.
  • More than a dozen church sketches.
  • Three feature-length musicals (music by someone else).
  • Who knows how many poems (all pretty bad).
  • A radio show for blind children. (I’m proud of this one)
  • The treatment for a television pilot.
  • Two Masters’ theses and untold papers.
  • Blogs. Lots of them.
  • This FAQ.
  • Probably more, lol.

Are your stories religious?

Short answer: No. Long answer: Nope.

I do have a strong, personal faith that has been tested and reinforced over the years. Once upon a time, I was an atheist, and I have been struggling through my beliefs my entire life. I do absolutely put my faith in Jesus Christ alone to rescue me because I am incapable of rescuing myself. And, yes, many of my drama sketches are ministry-related, intended as tools to help churches use stories to impact peoples lives. Even these, you will never see any judgement or hate. Only truth and redemption. Finally, I will never deny that my faith touches every corner of my life, storytelling included.

All that said, my novels and short stories are not Christian or religious in nature. There is no preaching or hidden agenda or secret allegory. Each one is simple the best story that I could tell: full of drama, humor, and real life people in extraordinary circumstances. Truth be told, I don’t see the distinction between “Christian Novels” and “Secular Novels,” other than for marketing. I write fantasy stories as Chris Michaels. And I hope you enjoy them as such. I will, from time to time, write a story that is more specific in its purpose. Believe me, you will know exactly what that is from the very first page. I do not believe in bait and switch.

Chris Michaels is a pen name.

That’s not a question.

Yes, Chris Michaels is a pen name for me when I write fiction. My research and code are (mostly) under my actual name, Michael.