The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Michael R. Underwood

Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on Tor.com featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!

Today we’re joined by author Michael R. Underwood, who is also the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. Always books. He lives in Baltimore with his fiancé, an ever-growing library, and a super-team of dinosaur figurines and stuffed animals. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he studies historical martial arts and makes pizzas from scratch. You can find him on Twitter @MikeRUnderwood.

Mike is the author of Geekomancy, Celebromancy, as well as the forthcoming Attack the Geek, a sidequest novella in the Geekomancy series, is available now as an ebook from Pocket Star. He also has two new novels, Shield and Crocus and The Younger Gods, publishing later in 2014. If he survives to the end of this year, he will have earned a party.

Join us as we cover subjects ranging from optimistic theme songs to excitable foxes, and more!

Describe your favorite place to read or write.

There’s a coffee shop in the Inner Harbor called Lamill. It’s located just across the street from the Johns Hopkins Business School, and is attached to a big fancy hotel, so everything’s very snazzy. The drinks are expensive, so I only go there once a week or every two weeks. Fortunately, their food is cheaper, and they have excellent sweets, including donuts made in-house.

Going to Lamill only every couple of weeks makes it special. It’s a way to signal to my brain. “Brain, this is special writing time. I am treating you to this cool place with tasty drinks and sweets, and in return, you will help me in making awesome fiction.” It’s a pretty good deal for all involved.

If you could choose your own personal theme music/song to play every time you enter a room, what would you pick?

“When I am King” by Great Big Sea. It’s a triumphant, joyful anthem about everything working out for everyone, where no challenge is too big to overcome, and about getting to make up for missed opportunities. It’s the kind of song that propagates the attitude that I try to live—one guided by optimism, compassion, and excitement.

Geekomancy Attack the Geek Michael R UnderwoodIf you had to choose one band or artist to provide the official soundtrack to your latest book, who would it be?

Florence + The Machine—F+tM are already part of the unofficial soundtrack for the Ree Reyes series, especially songs like “Shake it Out,” “Only if For a Night,” “What The Water Gave Me,” and more, but the fact that the band has also done special songs for films and the like make me think they have the versatility to compose for a book series.

I’d ask for a lighter tone overall, since F+tM tend dark, and the Ree Reyes series tends light. But Florence Welch’s voice is unstoppable, and I love the band’s combination of the harp and piano in with the traditional rock instruments, which is somewhat analogous to the way that the series combines comedy, action, urban fantasy, and meta-fiction.

What D&D character alignment best describes you first thing in the morning?

Chaotic Groggy. I am seriously not a functional human first thing in the morning. Whenever I had to get up and out of the apartment quickly for SCA events (usually around 6AM), I was the grumpiest fencer in the Modern Middle Ages. Caffeine (tea or soda) helps some, but exercise and a shower are my best weapons against grogginess.

I’ve found a rhythm that works for me, and during the week, I have to get up and going if I want to start work at a reasonable hour without sacrificing sleep.

But my weekend mornings are still tortoise-slow, which amuses my morning-person fiancé to no end. She’s come to accept that I’m not fully human in the morning, so she gets up and sets about her day while I claw my way toward full consciousness.

What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?

I got started on SF/F really early, between Star Wars, The Princess Bride, and cartoons like GI Joe and Robotech. But what I think sealed my fate as a lifelong SF/F fan was the Choose Your Own Adventure series. When we lived in Brooklyn (I was 7-9), my dad worked next door to the editor of the series, Charles Kochman (now the Executive Editor at Abrams ComicArts), and when I went to visit my dad at work, Charlie would have a stack of Choose Your Own Adventure books for me to read and play through.

The interactive aspect of the story meant that even as I was reading, I was also very actively learning storytelling and structure—these kinds of character decisions have these kinds of consequences, and here’s how a character has to behave in order to move through the story successfully. CYOA books were some of my most memorable independent reading, training in genre tropes and structure, and a form of gaming.

Twenty-plus years later, I look back on CYOA as one of the most formative series on my approach as a gamer and storyteller.

What would your Patronus/familiar be?

I think my Patronus would be a grey fox. For a long time, I thought that red foxes were my bag—the brighter color made them look super cool, and they were way more popular than grey foxes. But the one time I saw a red fox in person, it was brooding in its tree stump, while its grey fox counterpart was bounding around by the fence, excited to see people.

I am way more a grey fox person than a red fox person, if those two are representative of their species. I like foxes because they’re clever, inquisitive, agile more than strong. They’re both doglike and catlike in different ways, and because I’ve loved the folk song “The Fox” since I was a wee tiny geek. If you haven’t heard the version performed by Nickel Creek, do yourself a favor and check it out.

List three things you’d like our readers to know about you and your work.

  1. My first series of books are the Ree Reyes urban fantasies, which posits a world where fandom and love of all things SF/F is its own form of magic: Geekomancy. The books have action, comedy (both in-jokes about SF/F as well as more general comedy), and a diverse cast. The series is both:

    • An ongoing love letter to the SF/F and gaming communities that have held a special place in my heart since I was young
    • A way to investigate the relationships of fans to beloved texts, including how we think about fan hierarchies, authenticity, and the role of physical culture (memorabilia, props, toys) in fandom. I was going to do a PhD in fan culture, but instead I ended up writing this series.
       
  2. I love dancing—especially social dancing, and double-especially the Argentine Tango. It’s communication through movement, musicality and creativity, moving meditation and more.
     
  3. I have three books coming out this year: Attack the Geek, a Ree Reyes novella; Shield and Crocus, an action fantasy novel set in a city built among the bones of a miles-tall titan; and The Younger Gods, the first in an urban fantasy series about the only moral son in a family of demon worshippers.

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