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🌟 Please join me in welcoming author Michael G. Williams to Stories That Make You Smile! Michael is here today celebrating the recent release of his fantastic sci-fi novel, A Fall in Autumn. He’s generously brought along a lovely excerpt and a giveaway. Pull up a chair and read on to discover what weird things Michael did in the name of story research! 🌟
A Fall in Autumn by Michael G. Williams
The future has a complicated past.
Series: Stories of Autumn (book #1)
Publisher: Falstaff Books
Release Date: January 2, 2019
Length: Novel / 79,751 words / 246 pages
Pairing / Genre(s) / Keyword(s): M/M, Not Romance, Sci-Fi, Detective, Post-Post-Apolalypse, detective and his homme fatale client, gay, android, robot, human-animal hybrids, flying cities, religion, conspiracies, religious conspiracy, far future, queer, cyborg
Future books have been pitched and gotten a verbal greenlight, but no contract has been signed, so (a) they don’t exist yet and (b) I’m not sure how much I can say other than that the second book will be called “New Life in Autumn.”
Warnings: This book involves very minor knife-based and hand-to-hand violence.
WELCOME TO THE LAST OF THE GREAT FLYING CITIES
It’s 9172, YE (Year of the Empire), and the future has forgotten its past.
Soaring miles over the Earth, Autumn, the sole surviving flying city, is filled to the brim with the manifold forms of humankind: from Human Plus “floor models” to the oppressed and disfranchised underclasses doing their dirty work and every imaginable variation between.
Valerius Bakhoum is a washed-up private eye and street hustler scraping by in Autumn. Late on his rent, fetishized and reviled for his imperfect genetics, stuck in the quicksand of his own heritage, Valerius is trying desperately to wrap up his too-short life when a mythical relic of humanity’s fog-shrouded past walks in and hires him to do one last job. What starts out as Valerius just taking a stranger’s money quickly turns into the biggest and most dangerous mystery he’s ever tried to crack – and Valerius is running out of time to solve it.
Now Autumn’s abandoned history – and the monsters and heroes that adorn it – are emerging from the shadows to threaten the few remaining things Valerius holds dear. Can the burned-out detective navigate the labyrinth of lies and maze of blind faith around him to save the City of Autumn from its greatest myth and deadliest threat?
The sun was over the trees at the southeastern edge of the sloped opening in the forest when I awoke. The sun woke me, actually: its rays on my face, the flicker of shadow and light as it played across my closed eyes. I was half dressed: my shoes off, my feet bare, and my coat spread over me in lieu of a blanket. My shirt was somewhere, probably. I wasn’t wearing it, anyway, and my eyes hadn’t opened yet, but I could feel it nearby the way you can sense an old dog by your chair or a former lover on the opposite side of an otherwise perfectly nice party.
My back curled against something firm and supporting and I felt gentle fingers stroke the tufts of silvery black at my temples. Hematite, a man told me once. I would always love him a little for saying that. My hair there wasn’t yet gray but no longer black and when wet it looked like hematite, and he said it like that meant something deep and significant and mystical I didn’t understand. Having someone’s fingers run through it felt good, though. It felt like a happy memory, like something I didn’t expect would happen much anymore if it ever really happened in the first place.
That simple touch was a comfort to me. It’s the most minor thing and, for that reason, the most missed when it’s gone. I don’t go long stretches without being touched, but it had been a while between caresses. This was that: a caress, and more; not exactly sexual but not exactly platonic. It was that happy in-between we call intimate. I made myself vulnerable to other men, and they themselves to me, more times than I can count in my too-short life. It didn’t always work out, though, that my usual flavor of street trade would show basic human kindness in return for mine.
None of that mattered, though. Those guys were long gone. Right that second, someone ran his fingers through my half-asleep hair, intimate and kind and caressing. I felt vulnerable and that was okay. For a few moments I wasn’t dying and I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t lonely and I wasn’t alone. The sun felt good, and the breeze through the branches sounded like Gaia herself telling me to go back to sleep. I thought for a moment I might be okay with dying fairly soon if I got to wake up like this every morning for the rest of my life.
“Okay,” I groaned. I didn’t move and I didn’t open my eyes because I wasn’t quite ready for the moment to go away even as I lifted the pin to pop its balloon. “You want something. So tell me what it is. Because if I say yes – if – I may not have much time to hold up my end of the bargain.” My voice dispelled all the magic of the moment, but his fingers were still at my temple, resting there, ready to go back to what we shared moments before. I rolled over and looked up at Alejandro, his purple hair down over half his face as he leaned on one elbow. I didn’t kiss him, but I did put one hand to his jaw and brush his cheek with my thumb. I wondered if he could feel that – really feel it, like skin feels it. “Let’s not pussyfoot around this. You want me to do something. The whole story about the angel and thinking someone was trying to kill you was bullshit, but there was something there, something worth chasing, so let’s have the truth now and get on with things.” I tried to smile at him. His expression was completely blank.
With the hand he used to brush my temples, he laid a fingertip behind my ear, cupping my face with barely a single point of contact. He still didn’t smile, but his eyes searched my face, my own eyes, for something. It occurred to me the correct phrasing might be to say he searched my eyes for someone. I assumed he’d been alive long enough to know a hell of a lot of people, and I would bet a nickel he looked for one of them in me. There are a hundred romantic stories about golems: meat sacks like me throwing ourselves at a golem out of infatuation with their embodiment of agelessness.
If he’d been there before, heard a hundred thousand of us wail about mortality and still willing to hear number one hundred thousand one, he must have a lot of love for humankind. No, I thought, more than that: he must have loved the hell out of one of us at some point. Maybe he was waiting for that guy to walk back into his life, reemerging from the vast but finite pool of genetic factors we possess as a species. I wondered if I simply seemed close enough to that long-lost lover to pass muster for a night.
I also wondered what made a golem want to get laid in the first place: ever the detective, after all.
“I really did see an angel in Splendor,” Alejandro said. He still wasn’t smiling. If anything, he had the muted seriousness, the understated gravitas, I’d long since come to recognize as the posture of someone telling the truth at long last. I wondered how long it had been. “I swear it to you. I swear it.” He surprised me, then, because he didn’t cry, golems don’t have tear ducts, but his eyelids quivered with the autonomic response to strong emotion. He still hadn’t moved at all, and we were shielded from the breeze so that his hair hung straight down like a perfectly still and settled curtain across half the stage of his face. “And I believe it would try to kill me if it knew I were here.”
☆ Author Interview ☆
When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
I grew up in a family of storytellers, very much from that Appalachian tradition of gathering around a table or a fire and listening to the oldsters tell tales from their youth. Some of them may have been tall tales, some not, but listening to people spin stories like that made me want to do the same. The context most familiar to me at that age, though, was books, so I wanted to transfer it to that. I tried writing a book for the first time in 3rd grade.
In terms of when I got the most meaningful encouragement that I should keep at it, I have two specific teachers to thank: my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Simpson, and my 8th grade English teacher, Ms. McGee. They each gave frequent creative writing assignments, and each of them explicitly encouraged me to keep going after they read my work. Ms. McGee, in particular, ran a short story contest every year with a wide variety of awards named for writers whose work we read in her class. Winning one of those was a big moment for me. That early shot of confidence, of external validation, was very important.
Developmentally, I was at the messy intersection of realizing (a) I was a gay kid in an incredibly hostile environment and (b) there were stories of and resources for people like me and (c) those affirming resources were being kept from me by the same entrenched forces fostering that pervasive hostility. I was raised in an isolated place by outspoken evangelicals and surrounded by aggressively repressive and repressed fundamentalists. I was not in a good place mentally and emotionally, and there were explicit expectations that I bury that reality and suffocate behind a politely passive mask. I don’t know how consciously I realized it at the time, but I escaped into books to find places and people I thought might accept me, and writing presented an opportunity to create more of those safe spaces for myself. I can’t overstate how important that was to my survival. Those two teachers encouraged me to write at a time when it turned out I desperately needed writing as a way to envision a survivable future for myself.
Seven years ago, after a decade of successful National Novel Writing Month experiences, I decided to enter a juried literary contest for the Laine Cunningham Award. My novel Perishables (the first book of The Withrow Chronicles) won, and that was when it all came together in my head. It proved there would be an audience for my writing beyond a couple of friends and my own pleasure at writing it.
Oh, wow, OK, that was a lot. Ha! Sorry, that may have been more than you wanted, but so it goes. 😀
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?
Let’s see – the possible answers are endless! There was the time I talked my way into a company picnic for a place I did not and never had worked, by pretending I was on the picnic’s organizing committee. I mean, it sort of just happened by accident, and sort of didn’t, and the moment someone mistook me for one of the organizers I consciously decided to roll with it and see what happened, thinking, “One day, I will use this in a book.” (And I will, and I even know which one. Heh.)
Most of my answers probably involve San Francisco. I live in North Carolina, but San Francisco is the home of my heart in many ways. There was the time I walked from the Mission District, in San Francisco, back to a friend’s house in The Castro, which was like a two-hour walk, at 3:00 AM, by myself, with a dead phone battery, because I wanted to see what San Francisco is like in the middle of the night. (It was wonderfully serene. I’m so glad I did that, and I’m not totally sure I recommend it to others.) There’s the time friends and I wandered into Kayo Books, which it turns out has one of the most impressive collections of mid-20th-century detective novels – and smut – I’ve ever seen. I love that store! Gods, the times I’ve been to San Francisco could be a laundry list of answers. Heck, the things I’ve done in Golden Gate Park offer multiple possibilities, but I’m, uh, not sure I should list those here. Suffice to say, there are scenes in A Fall in Autumn that come rather directly from my own experiences.
I think my favorite off-beat thing I’ve done was take the Emperor Norton’s Fantastic San Francisco Time Machine walking tour. I have an urban fantasy time travel novella series coming out soon, and it stars the real historical figure of Emperor Norton, one of San Francisco’s greatest eccentrics. The tour leader is an Emperor Norton reenactor who knows every square inch of San Francisco like the back of his own hand. It’s such a wonderful time. I think I’ve taken the tour three times at this point, because he visits different parts of the city and has different information on different tours. On a tour of the San Francisco Financial District – which has an incredible history all its own – we turned a corner into an alley to find an opera soprano diva in full 19th century attire awaiting us. Right there, in the shockingly perfect acoustics of steel and glass skyscrapers, we were treated to a personal performance. I will never forget how magical that moment became. It felt like we had stepped out of time, turned a corner into the past. That was the experience that gave me the idea to write a time travel story set in San Francisco.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Video games. Every time. Especially the 4X world-management variety, like Sid Meier’s Civilizations, or Surviving Mars. I can really fall down the well in those games, and the next thing I know two hours have passed. I have a writing laptop distinct from my desktop computer because the laptop isn’t capable of playing those games. I have to cut off the possibility of distracting myself that way in order to be at all productive.
Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
Yes, there are, absolutely. Everything I write features queer characters and queer experiences, and I can’t imagine writing something without them. My suburban vampire series, The Withrow Chronicles, features a number of gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters. It features diverse body types. It features diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. I think it’s possible the main character of that series is also asexual, or at least somewhere on the ace spectrum. (A reader recently pointed this out and they are absolutely correct; I just hadn’t realized it when writing them.)
In A Fall in Autumn, I very consciously wanted to represent the way queer people in Western societies are having such a surreal moment. On the one hand, straight people gather in sports bars to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. On the other, my own state’s legislature busies itself passing anti-trans “bathroom bills” and trying to undo my marriage to another man. The main character, Valerius, is what his culture calls an Artisanal Human, or “Artie”: his parents made him the old-fashioned way, when almost everyone in his society is genetically engineered for specific economic tasks or for all-around superiority. He had to escape the genetic preserve where he grew up only to find himself simultaneously fetishized and reviled in the wider world. That speaks to my own experience, and that of many queer people I know, particularly those of us who are more activist than aspirational, in that we kind of find ourselves stereotyped on one side by people who hate us and equally stereotyped on the other side by people who think our greatest strength is the ability to fix their brunch menu. It’s a weird time, in which we have won a ton of progress and also find that progress can be very fragile. It was important to me to show that part of the queer experience as opposed to, say, a coming out story.
I try very hard to make sure I feature marginalized voices instead of privileged ones in everything I write. I don’t feel terribly comfortable, like, taking credit for that? Because I’m a white, cisgendered man, so in many ways I don’t have the experiences of marginalized people and identities and I don’t want to misrepresent them, and I also don’t want to seem like I’m exploiting them. At the same time, we have plenty of stories about white guys who have never been challenged to think outside their own experience. I would hate to be shoveling more books onto that infinite pile. I feel a responsibility to use the privilege I enjoy to amplify other perspectives and voices. Ultimately, it’s important to me as a writer that when someone reaches for one of my books they find that book reaching back with a welcoming hand. I want them to trust that I will work to show them characters who look and think and live as they do, and when they tell their own stories I feel a responsibility to get out of the way and listen. I also think every writer has a responsibility to describe the world they want, because if we’re writing today to be read tomorrow then we are, consciously or otherwise, trying to shape that tomorrow. I want a more diverse tomorrow, one that celebrates perspectives we don’t hear as often and welcomes more kinds of lives into the spotlight.
Name the book you like most among all you’ve written, and tell us why.
Honestly, A Fall in Autumn is the best thing I’ve ever written, and several of my most ardent fans have confirmed that. I could feel it in my gut during the editing process. My publisher calls it a “level-up” book for me, and I certainly could tell I was working harder and going to places more personal and more universal when writing it. Everything I’ve written is to some degree built on my own experiences, of course, and has some of myself in it, but there are aspects of my early life and my early psychological development that show up in the pages of A Fall in Autumn in ways that surprised even me. I have always seen my early life as a hindrance when it comes to telling queer stories and digging into my own identity: a chock under the wheel of getting started being me. The experience of writing A Fall in Autumn taught me that wasn’t true. It could be a part of the story I tell rather than an obstacle in its path.
What food fuels your writing?
For years my trick for writing has been to go to one specific coffee shop, order a 20-ounce iced red-eye – 20 oz of cold-brew coffee, two shots of espresso – and chug it. Twenty minutes later, I am writing like the wind. I have to have that caffeinated kick in the butt to get in gear and get going, and I can ride that dosage for hours of productive work.
What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
I’ve just signed a deal for 4 more books in the world of A Fall in Autumn and will be writing the sequel over the summer. I can’t wait! I expect the second book, to be titled New Life in Autumn, will be out a year from now.
Later this year I have several other works, already finished and out from Falstaff Books:
Nobody Gets Out Alive will be coming out sometime soon, probably over the summer. It’s the fifth and final(-ish) book of The Withrow Chronicles, my suburban vampire series about a guy who became a vampire in the 1940’s and has declared himself the boss of all of North Carolina’s blood-drinkers. The series is a ridiculously fun sequence of genre mashups – vampires and zombies, vampires and superheroes, vampires and spy thrillers, vampires and war, vampires and their witch frienemies – telling a story that gets increasingly complex as Withrow slowly but surely learns the world of the supernatural is much bigger than he thought.
I also have the four-novella San Francisco urban fantasy series, SERVANT/SOVEREIGN. It starts with Through the Doors of Oblivion, and it’s about some of the most evocative moments in San Francisco’s history – such as the 1906 earthquake and fire – and witches and demons and time travel and real estate scams. I’m just exceptionally proud of it, and I get to really focus on the features of San Francisco I most adore, which are not necessarily the parts of the city they try to highlight for tourists. I don’t know exactly when that one is due out, either, but it’s made it through the content edits and the copyeditor and it’s now with the proofreader, so it’s getting close!
And, last but not least, I’ve reached the rights-reversion point on a bunch of short stories I sold years ago so I’m possibly going to reclaim those rights and produce an anthology of short stories and nonfiction essays I’ve written for various venues. That’s a maybe, though. We’ll see.
Thank you so much for having me – I really appreciate your and your readers’ time and attention. I hope you enjoy A Fall in Autumn and I would love to hear from you about it!
You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.
Folks who sign up for my monthly newsletter get a free short story and can read the ongoing first draft of a story set in the world of A Fall in Autumn but in our time rather than 12,000 years from now. Give it a shot! I keep marketing to a minimum and try to focus on rewarding your interest with new content.
And thanks again!
Meet the Author
Michael G. Williams writes wry horror, urban fantasy, and science fiction: stories of monsters, macabre humor, and subverted expectations. He is the author of three series for Falstaff Books: The Withrow Chronicles, including Perishables (2012 Laine Cunningham Award), Tooth & Nail, Deal with the Devil, Attempted Immortality, and Nobody Gets Out Alive; a new series in The Shadow Council Archives featuring one of San Francisco’s most beloved figures, SERVANT/SOVEREIGN; and the science fiction noir A Fall in Autumn. Michael also writes short stories and contributes to tabletop RPG development. Michael strives to present the humor and humanity at the heart of horror and mystery with stories of outcasts and loners finding their people.
Michael is also an avid podcaster, activist, reader, runner, and gaymer, and is a brother in St. Anthony Hall and Mu Beta Psi. He lives in Durham, NC, with his husband, two cats, two dogs, and more and better friends than he probably deserves.
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Michael is giving away an eBook copy of “Perishables,” book one of The Withrow Chronicles, with this post: Everybody hates their Homeowner’s Association, and nobody likes a zombie apocalypse. Put the two together, and Withrow Surrett is having a truly craptastic night.a Rafflecopter giveaway