Mike and I had been talking book things, publishing life, and more for a few months when he graciously provided me an ARC of Here and Now and Then (2019). A time travel story with a literary edge, we follow the story of Kin and his quest to save his two families in two timelines. Heartfelt and emotional, this book has enough nods to Doctor Who and Star Trek to make you smile between crying sessions.
In this interview, Mike talks about how he developed his debut, his favorite episodes of his favorite series, and a piece of advice which goes beyond writing and publishing.
Writing His Debut
What came first: the world(s) or the characters?
It was actually the concept that came first. I was querying another manuscript and that was kind of reaching the end of its revision cycle so I wanted to focus my energies on a new project, just to get my mind off stuff. I’d somehow watched Star Trek The Next Generation‘s “The Inner Light” and Doctor Who‘s “School Reunion” fairly close to each other—both of those stories play with the impacts of missing time on relationships. So the core concept came about with the idea of a time traveler having to raise a child across a century. Then the blanks started to fill in: it was a father/daughter relationship, he would be the one forced away, his mechanism would be a secret agent type of thing. After those core elements became solid, the characters and world kind of colored in in parallel.
Given that this is a time travel novel, how did you balance the dual time frames and story lines? Do you have any tips for fellow writers?
It’s funny because even though this is a time travel novel, the narrative is fairly linear and each act has its own time period. So from a narrative structure, it was actually quite simple. The hard part, then, was making all of the proper ripple effects when the story changed at certain points. So while I was tweaking timelines, associated details and ripple effects would have to be updated.
I used a spreadsheet to keep track of this. My friend Fonda Lee (Jade City ) actually recommended using a gantt chart to keep narrative timeline details straight for continuity purposes. I’m gonna try that with my next project.
There are some fun nods to Doctor Who and Star Trek in this work. Are there other ways in which your love of these shows influenced Here and Now and Then?
Oh, for sure. I mentioned the specific episodes above, and for me, I love sci-fi that really zeroes in on character rather than epic space opera stuff. I mean, I clearly love space opera as well, but I have a really soft spot for character pieces in these types of franchises. One of my favorite The Next Generation episodes is “Lower Decks,” which focuses on four ensigns interacting with the main cast. I think the most important element I pull out of those types of things is that the story could work outside of the SFF elements; those simply are window dressing. I think that my work tends to fit that mold.
What was your favorite scene to write?
My favorite scene to write was actually cut.
In the original draft, one character has a subplot that spans the whole book rather than ending in the first half, and that allowed for a timey-wimey reunion in the second-half of the book. I loved writing this scene because it illustrated how time and the weariness of life can affect people, but how at their core, they’re still the same person.
That scene, by the way, was influenced by a scene in the Doctor Who episode, “Blink.”
Ultimately, my editor felt like that subplot had too much happening off screen — a lot of it was information being told to Kin rather than shown, so it was very passive. My editor said that we either had to cut it or make it bigger. The logical thing to do was cut it, which also created a more realistic ripple effect for the surviving characters.
The scene I loved writing was ultimately replaced at the end with a similar scene in a different context, which still allowed for emotional closure despite the changing of the players.
(Click here for a spoiler version)
Advice and What’s Coming Next
Was Here and Now and Then your first novel?
It was my third queried manuscript, my fifth completed (in length, not necessarily in polish) manuscript. The first one was a terrible new adult manuscript about my time playing in local indie rock bands. The second was my first attempt to do speculative/literary sci-fi/character-driven sci-fi, and that manuscript was eventually resurrected and heavily revised into my second book called The Pause, coming January 2020.
Is there anything you know now that you would have told Past!Mike?
Give yourself five minutes to enjoy every milestone you hit. Like literally, sit in a quiet space and think about it and let it sink in. Having a day job and a young child and a night job as an author can make things jam packed, and publishing is very much a “nothing happens, then everything happens at once” sort of thing, so when you do hit a milestone, it can feel like a whirlwind.
This is based on advice my friend Nate gave me before my wedding, where he told me to make sure to take five minutes to actually eat and enjoy it before we talked to everyone. Kind of the same thing. It’s the #1 thing I tell my writer pals when they sign with an agent or get a book deal or hit some other major milestone.
What’s on the horizon after Here and Now and Then?
I mentioned my second book, a post-apocalyptic story about a wedding planner, a widower, his daughter, and a former pop star in a rebuilding society entitled THE PAUSE. It’s essentially done outside of a few minor revisions. I’m very excited about that, I’ve lived with those characters since 2011 or so, so for them to finally be coming to life…well, when my editor sent me an email saying that she had accepted the completed manuscript for final payment (after I had finished a massive revision that required rewriting about 75% of the text), it was a very emotional moment. I basically had to hide tears at my day job LOL.
After that, I’m finishing up my WIP which we are hoping to sell as my third book, which is based on a short story I had sold about a superhero and a supervillain who cross paths in an AA meeting. I really love those characters, so I have high hopes that they’ll be in print some time down the road.
Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter. Here and Now and Then comes out January 29th and can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, and wherever books are sold.