Mike Van Horn

‘“Sci fi with a sound track” because I created music for the songs my heroine sings in the stories.’

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What is your favourite genre to write, and why?

I write science fiction—stories about Earth people traveling to the stars and interacting with aliens. Why? Because I want them to be true. I want to overcome the impossibilities, so I can go to those places myself.

Also, when I read sci-fi, I often argue with the authors. I disagree with a premise of their story, so I have to write stories that redress these errors. For example, “There’s one and only one hero who can save the universe.” Yuck! I dislike that premise. My heroes are bumbling, and only succeed through working with others—often very different others.

Tell me about your book / series.

It’s a trilogy.

Book 1, Aliens Crashed in My Back Yard, was just published. Singer Selena M rescues a very non-human alien from a crashed spaceship and nurses it back to health. She is surprised to discover that it communicates through song, and they help each other rekindle their passion for singing. But the government wants that spaceship and comes to take it from Selena.
How did this young alien escape her home world and make a taboo trip to Earth? What was she running from? How long before the Elders come after her?

My Spaceship Calls Out to Me, Book 2, will be out shortly. If Selena is recommitted to her music, how can she be pulled into an adventure in space? She sings “Let Me Lead You Astray” and “Rocket Girl,” a tribute to Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”

Space Girl Yearning, Book 3, out later this year. Will Selena escape the implacable forces pursuing her from world to world and get back home? The plaintive song she sings is “Forever to Infinity.”

Tell me about a principal character in your book(s). What makes them memorable?

Besides Selena and Breadbox, “Wanda the Magic Wand” is an AI device Selena obtained from Breadbox. It’s a metallic cylinder about a foot long and 2.5 inches in diameter. (30×8 cm.)

The alien crew used it for navigation, communication, monitoring instruments, controlling their spaceship, language translation. The alien name translated to “personal multi-function device”–kind of clunky.

Selena used it for much more ambitious things. She trained it to develop a personality till it became a companion to her, despite being a cylinder she had to carry around. They argued about whether it had preferences and free will.

It could also repair the spaceship, plus any other item for which it had a pattern–including the human body. Selena called it “she” because she’d named it Wanda–a girl’s name.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Yes! I give my secondary characters names that represent some quality they have. For example, the shrink is named Dr. Pryer. The man who’s against using the alien technology is Senator Ludlum. (Pretty obscure. Remember the Luddites?) Many others. Maybe I’ll offer a prize to the person who can find the most of them.

If you could, would you live in the world you’ve created?

Yes I would! My trilogy takes place today-ish in California. Well, that’s where I DO live. But my heroine has a star-leaping spaceship, and she ends up exploring new worlds, escaping the bad guys and finding allies. Dang right I’d love to ride along with her!

If you could go back to the start of your writing career, what is the one piece of advice you’d give yourself?

“Don’t wait 30 years, you idiot!” I started writing sci-fi in the 1980s, but it got back-burnered by consulting and writing business books. Not until a couple of years ago did I decide to take it seriously. So, I have over a dozen biz books out there, but the sci-fi is so much more fun.

Are there any authors or artists who influence you?

Among fiction authors: Ursula LeGuin, David Brin, Tolkien.

I love LeGuin’s poetic language, character development, and the sophistication of her plots. For both her sci-fi and fantasy. She doesn’t write shoot ‘em up stories, and neither do I. Brin is a master of portraying how very different alien races behave and work together. That’s a big part of my stories. In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, I love his poetry written from the perspective of different kinds of beings. I do a lot of that also, including song lyrics.

Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what do you like?

Late the other night, I put on my headset, put my feet up, and watched Stevie Nicks perform “Gold Dust Woman” on YouTube. This just took me away. I fantasized this buglike species that insisted on being called birds. But they’d lost the ability to fly because they’d trimmed their wings to be more stylish. It was humiliating to ride these flying platforms instead of soaring on the breezes.

See, this is dangerous! A whole new story is roiling up wanting to be told, and I’ve got to finish the one I’m working on. So I write in silence.

-How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Ha! Look on my website. I have 8 books with cover images and descriptions. Only one is published so far. (Two more coming soon.) But these vaporware books make it more real for me. It’s kind of a promise to myself.

And that’s just the fiction books. I probably have another ten semi-written non-fiction books on various topics. Enough for a couple of lifetimes. Wonder if I’ll get any of them done?

Are you a plotter, or a pantser?

I’m more of a dancer. My stories start with an idea, a fantasy, a scene—likely in the middle of the story. I never know the ending till later. Once I have chunks of the story, I become a plotter to link them together. I use Scapple for this, which lets me move around little blocks of text to get small pieces in the right order. I export that to Word and I have an outline. So I dance, then pants, then plot.

Indie, or traditionally published – and why?

My first two books were traditionally published, which meant they got into libraries and book clubs. I could never have accomplished that. But when I wanted to do a second edition, the publisher wasn’t interested, so I was stuck. Since then I’ve self-published. With my small business books, I wanted spin-off products—programs, workbooks, e-books—that a publisher might have denied. Or at least controlled. So I had to self-publish.

With my science fiction, I want to get things out quickly once they’re written, and not wait a year or more.

Tell me about one favourite hobby or pastime that isn’t writing or reading.

How about designing tee-shirts? Here’s one I just designed for myself that I can wear to the gym. (I sketched it then my cover artist Shane Colclough drew it.)

Besides this, it’s travel. My wife and I have been to every continent except Antarctica.

Tell me three unique things about you.

I’m a lyricist! I giggle even to say that. I can’t sing, but the lyrics I wrote for my MC to perform have become songs.

In a former lifetime, I ran away from the city and worked as a hippie potter in the woods near Mendocino CA. That lasted about a year.

I married a woman who wrestled a bear. Okay, my wife wrestled the bear—that was the unique thing. She did this at a fair. I strongly doubt they allow such things any more. 

What’s your opinion on the belief that indie books are badly edited and lower quality than traditionally published?

It’s disheartening to read a book by one of our authors and find a couple of glitches per page. Can they just not afford a copy editor/proofer? Or do they not think it’s important?

Mike, thank you for participating in Galaxy of Authors!