Both Amanda and Michael spent far too many years writing for other people and corporations before turning their work and imaginations to fiction. She used to work as a reporter and communication consultant, while he divides his time between writing, music, woodworking, and gardening.
Interview with Amanda K. King and Michael R. Swanson
What cool and exciting things have been happening in your life recently?
Amanda: We published a book! That’s pretty much it. The whole process eats up free time like crazy.
Free time? What free time?
Is your recent book part of a series? If so, can you tell us a bit about where the story is heading?
Michael: Things They Buried can be read as a stand-alone novel, though it is the first of our Thung Toh Jig stories. The Thung Toh are an independent organization of covert operatives in our world. They provide us an opportunity to create adventures that can be independent of one another. Some of the characters from this first novel will appear in other Thung Toh Jigs, though the reader should be able to jump into those without reading this one.
The Jigs will not be the only releases from us, though. All our planned stories take place on Ismae, some will be serial, some stand-alone, and some will introduce other characters, cultures, and storylines as we move forward.
Sounds like fun! Can you tell us about what you're currently working on?
Amanda: The next release we’re working on is a six-part short-novel serial called The Long Game. We had originally settled on novellas, but as we wrote, that felt too restrictive. If one of them needs more than the standard 40,000 words, we don’t want to short change it just to fit into that category. The series follows up on some of the side storylines, characters, and events from Things They Buried. Each one will be a stand-alone adventure, but an overarching storyline ties them all together. Much like our debut novel, all of these will be heavy on the action/adventure.
We’re also working on a couple other projects, one that follows up on a character who left Dockhaven at the end of Things They Buried. I don’t want to mention names and spoil that first novel for anyone. We’re also nearly done with the rough draft of another longer novel that features new (mostly) characters, but still takes place on Ismae.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise? Why or why not?
Amanda: Orono, our primary villain in Things They Buried, is truly despicable with just about every nasty personality characteristic we could think of. Because our main characters are solidly grey/antihero, we needed him to be really terrible in contrast, though I don’t think readers will be seeing the same level of awful from most of our future villains. Our original draft featured scenes from Orono’s point of view, but we decided even that made him too relatable to the reader. No one will—or should—want to relate to this man.
Ah, the pure evil villains. Good times.
Where did the idea of your story come from?
Amanda: We started worldbuilding fifteen years ago because we were bored with the stock fantasy universe. Our author’s index for Ismae is mammoth—hundreds of OneNote pages. In Things They Buried, we barely even begin to unravel all the detail already developed in the world. It can be a lot to keep track of but having all that keeps us from wondering what the next story should be about. If we write everything we already have planned, we’ll be busy for decades to come.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are. What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
Amanda: I’d tell readers to remember the frustration of applying for a job in order to get work experience only to be told they’re not right for the position because they don’t have verifiable experience. As authors, we need reviews to be able to run promos with companies like BookBub, but we want to run those very promos in order to get reviews. Readers see our ads and social posts then check out the book but instead of downloading a sample, they bounce because no one’s reviewed it. Then Amazon can be persnickety about who they allow to post reviews, so authors can’t count on friends and family to get started. It’s like applying for that job—we need reviews to get reviews. I think nearly everyone can relate to that.
What kind of impact do you want your book(s) to have on readers?
Amanda: I want people to enjoy reading our books. I want the Ismae stories to take readers out of the mundane world and let them have fun, make them feel something, quicken their pulses. We had one reader tell us he got goosebumps at the end of part two of Things They Buried when he realized what was about to happen. That’s what I want. That makes me happy.
Michael: Amanda pretty much covered it for me. The only thing I’ll add is that I don’t want readers to see reading a sci-fi/fantasy novel as a chore. The thousand-page multi-volume epics are often great, but there’s still a place for the two hundred to five hundred page novel. It’s very satisfying to turn off the viewscreen and read pulp for your entertainment fix at the end of a long day. And your Goodreads or LibraryThing annual challenge totals will be a heck of a lot more impressive if you are reading five shorter books in place of one giant volume.
What, in your opinion, is the worst mistake an author can make?
Michael: Give up. I’ve left a lot of projects unfinished in my life and those are the only ones I regret. I have partially completed musical instruments tucked away in many spots in our house and more than a few unfinished recordings. I guess I keep them around to mock me. Except for a couple of recordings that were released in the nineties, Things They Buried is my only creative project put out to the world at large. It was both the most difficult and the most rewarding creation I have ever completed.
If you could have one (real life) skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be? Why? How would you use it?
Michael: Kung fu. I always wanted to practice a martial art, but due to bad knees and poor discipline I haven’t yet. I’d use it for bit parts in low budget action movies.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
Amanda: I garden—raise the veggies from seeds annually and even can them in the fall. No lawn in the backyard, all garden.
What creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
Amanda: Zombies. I’ve never met a zombie movie or book I couldn’t at least enjoy. They’re a cultural metaphor disguised as a good scare and I love that. Though the xenomoph is just beyond awesome, too.
Michael: I choose aliens. Unless that means grays only, then I’m with Amanda and it would be zombies.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!