Author Interview: Michael Bronte
When dead presidents in a supernatural world play the board game of world conquest, their moves are carried out in the human world.
Leaders are born and dictators rise to power as presidents past, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and others, plot their moves. One of them makes a move, and invasion takes place on Earth.
In the supernatural world, it's about strategy, wits, and the will to win. But on Earth, it's an action and adventure story featuring a psychopathic dictator threatening the United States, and the boy who will grow up to stop him from taking over the world. It might seem impossible, but history is being determined before it actually happens.
In the end, it's all about leadership, and little Pauli Campo emerges from his meager existence to lead his country in the fight to avert a world war that could lead to the deaths of millions of people. This is the unGame, and the struggle for world domination continues with each roll of the dice in Presidential Risk.
My family emigrated from Italy when I was a child, and like so many immigrant families, my parents were common laborers, but they managed to save enough money to start a family business. They bought a small grocery store, and in it was a magazine rack, and a small paperback book rack. Now, in my family, if you lived in the house, you worked in the business, and I remember stocking shelves, and sweeping floors, but it was here that I first became exposed to writing. I would take books off that rack and I would read them, always making sure I didn’t bend the pages, of course, so we could still sell the books.
To this day, I don’t know why… but the book that inspired me the most was a book by Irving Wallace—who at the time I’d never heard of—titled The Fan Club. I couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen at the time, and it was my first grown-up type of book. I remember reading that book under a huge oak tree outside the side door of my parents’ store. I’d sit there reading until a customer came in for a loaf of bread or something, and I’d run to the register and take care of the customer, and then I’d run back to the chair under that oak tree, and I’d keep reading. I remember reading The Fan Club again many years later, when I was in my forties, and while I don’t remember it being the best book ever written, I do remember thinking back to the times under that oak tree when I thought to myself, “I could do this…. I could write a book like this. I just know I could.” And thirty years later, I did.
1. When did you decide to start writing?
I started writing almost twenty-five years ago now. I was working part-time for an advertising agency writing radio commercials at the time, and because there was some distance between us, the agency gave me a computer so that we could “telefax” back and forth, rather than having to mess with slimy fax paper or drive long distances to review the work in person. Can you believe it? “Telefaxes?” This was really the stone age of e-mail. I’d never even been on a computer before (it was a primitive Mac where the processor and the tiny 8x8 monitor were in the same unit and you could actually carry it around—it looked like a portable Pac Man game), and now I had to learn how to use a word processing program called MacWrite. How did I learn it? I started writing a story, that’s how. Soon, I was hooked, and about eight months later I printed out my first manuscript.
This is what I tell everyone who asks me the question about when did I start writing, but closer to the truth is another answer that deep down inside, I’d probably been a closet wannabe writer for as long as I could remember. I probably really decided to be a writer many years previous to this time, and the truth is that the whole computer thing was probably just an excuse to actually sit down and put some words on paper so I could determine in my own mind if I was any good.
2. What is your genre and why did you decide to write a novel in it?
The genre for Presidential Risk kind of crosses back and forth between action/adventure and fantasy. I didn’t actually decide to write in the genre; it was the story idea that dictated what the genre would end up being, if you can follow my logic. The basic premise of the book is that there is a group of dead presidents up in … well, somewhere up there … playing a supernatural version of the board game Risk—you know, the game of world domination. As they play, their moves and their strategies are reflected back down to the real world on Earth. Hence, a president makes a move, an invasion takes place on Earth. The action jumps back and forth between the supernatural game (I call it the ungame), and the world on Earth where the main character becomes tangled up in the wars and battles that are being caused by the moves at the ungame, first as a soldier and war hero, then as an elected official, congressman, etc., all the way to the oval office. His progression politically not is necessarily of his own choosing, however, but as forced actions from the presidential game.
3. Were you worried about the word count of your work?
Absolutely. I had to take out about a third of the original manuscript, and it still ended up at a healthy 130,000 words, or so. It’s very painful for a writer to take out that much material, for as you’re chopping away you’re constantly taking out stuff that you really think is good. Looking back on it, however, it forces you to consider which words are really pertinent to the story, which words are repetitious, or how things can be said in another way. It cleans your style.
4. Do you have any writing quirks and what are they?
Yes, I tend to overwrite, and I find myself saying the same thing in different ways, or repeating a character’s thoughts in different places in the story. As an author, you don’t need to do either of those. For me, I need to make my sentences simpler. When I reread my material, I want the reader to think that my having written the story was easy. The reader doesn’t really know how much work went into making those sentences look like a high school student could have written them. That, and not going into every single conceivable detail about every spec of lint that blows down the highway. If I need the reader to know what time it is, I don’t need to tell him how to build a watch. Sometimes I’ll be reading something by some very well-known authors, and I’ll find myself saying, “What the hell is this guy talking about?” To me, if that happens, the author has put too much on the page.
5. If you can describe your novel in one word, what would it be and why?
One word? Really? Gee. Unique, I guess. I read a lot of stuff, and I don’t see anything out there like it, but it could just as easily be “entertaining.” I mean, those dead presidents can be a little whacky sometimes.
6. How did you decide on the title and what does it mean?
Well, the story is about dead presidents playing the board game Risk. It doesn’t take much to extrapolate that idea into the title Presidential Risk. I’d like to think I’m much cleverer than that, however.
7. What do you hope your readers will get out of reading your novel?
Presidential Risk attacks the big facades in life. You never want to admit that you’re afraid, or jealous, or intimidated. You want to think you have all the answers. The truth of the matter is that none of us has all the answers, and this is exactly what the main character, Pauli, goes through in Presidential Risk. The monsters of pride and envy, they’re all alive inside Pauli, and he blames them for his self-defined lack of success. It’s not until he realizes that he’s his own biggest adversary that he begins to take control of his own destiny. He begins to make choices, choices that will pull him out of his current situation and open other doors for him, even if he doesn’t know immediately where those other doors will lead him. And … here is the message … at least he’s setting his own course, and that’s what you have to do for yourself if you want to take control over your own destiny.
8. Tell us a little about your road to publication.
It was awful, painful, and embarrassing. I went through years of rejection by agents and dealings with rip-off artists, a couple of whom succeeded in stealing from me, followed by self-doubt, guilt, and personal admission that maybe my writing wasn’t any good. That’s not to mention the frustration, expense, and time wasted chasing after something that I was beginning to think I was a total fool for pursuing. Write? What made me think I could write? Jackass. All this was with the backdrop of the publishing world being the fucked up mess that it is. So…. I decided to stop putting my writing fate in the hands of others, most of whom I found to be dishonest, and I decided to self-publish, knowing that the only way I was going to be successful in publicizing my book was to do it myself. I figured I had about as good a chance of success by going down that road as any other. Hence, here I am, trying to do just that. I’ll let the readers decide if my stuff is any good. I’d love to have a traditional publisher pick it up from here.
9. What advice can you give other aspiring authors out there?
You’d better be convinced that you can do this (write, that is), because it’s not an easy path to travel. And you’d better be willing and able to take some criticism, because some of it will be warranted. I suggest strongly that you read as many other authors as you can stomach. With some of them, you’ll say to yourself, “There’s no way I can compete with this. This guy is a genius.” With others (some of them being very famous and very successful), you’ll say, “How can this guy put this crap out there?” You have to be able to step back objectively put your own writing on this genius-to-crap scale.
One way to do this, no matter how good or how polished you think a piece of work might be, is to put it away for six months and come back to it. I guarantee you’ll find yourself saying, “How the hell did I ever write this garbage?” or “What was I on when I wrote this?” With other parts, you’ll burst out laughing, or you’ll feel yourself choke up reading something you wrote. Those are the good parts. When you can go through a piece of work and have no (as in none) “What was I thinking” moments, only then is it ready for someone else to read so you can go through the same process again with their thoughts and comments, some of which will be valid, some of which won’t be. Then, when you get through all that, you’re about halfway to a finished piece. And, finally, finally, when you think you’ve got the perfect piece, you’ll get reviewed, and someone will blast you out of the water with a bad review. You need to know that the criticism never ends, and it always hurts. You just need to have enough self-confidence to keep writing and keep moving forward.
Oh, and know proper grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. There’s nothing worse than a writer who doesn’t know the fundamentals of his craft.
Michael Bronte is a graduate of Union College in Schenectady, New York, and George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is the author of one previous novel titled The Dealership. He has two children, one wife of almost 30 years, and lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
I would like to thank Michael for granting this interview and being gracious enough to giveaway a copy of his novel Presidential Risk. Look out for tomorrow's post for details on how to win a copy of Michael's novel.