Interview - MC, April 20, 2011

Tim: I had a few hours between trains so I'm standing on this street corner here in the Windy City (Chicago, IL) chatting with MC and helping him watch people dig holes in the ground which is apparently one of the things you do with a degree in Geology. I've long enjoyed watching other people work so hopefully we can squeeze in a few questions.

MC: Yeah, I can talk. They’re between trips, so I’ve got time.

T: Cool.  I'll start with a prepared list of questions and we'll see where that leads.  And since you've written a few fan fics, let's begin with what first got you interested in writing?

MC: A combination of things, really. First off, I’ve been playing pen and paper/tabletop role-playing games and RPG video games since I was about 10 years old (over 25 years, at this point). And any gamer worth his dice is a frustrated writer. The pre-generated campaign worlds only offer so much. And besides, they put those rules supplements out for a reason, right? They want you to create your own world, right? So, like any good GM (game master), I created my own world, wrote a long, pretty in-depth history for it, and then started writing campaigns. And, when it all boils down, a campaign, or at least the path for one, is pretty much the same as a story outline: a whole lot of plot relevant information with no dialog. The only difference is that with a game campaign, you have to depend on other people to go in the direction of the story you’re trying to tell, and with a story, you’re in charge (to a degree; those pesky characters keep getting in the way and doing what they want).

Secondly, and to a smaller degree, it was fan fiction. I would go to places on the net like Fanfiction.net and read some fan fictions about the shows I watched. It eventually led me to the conclusion that if these people could write stuff and people liked it, I probably could, too. 

T: What types of stories do you like to read? Authors?

MC: Again, being a gamer, I prefer science fiction and fantasy type stories. But, I’ve become disappointed in most of the quality of the story-lines lately and haven’t really picked up a fiction book in a while.  Many of the authors that I used to read (Steven King, the late Robert Jordan, and Terry Goodkind, especially) I’ve lost my faith in, as it were.  To explain, I stuck with Goodkind and King in one series each (Goodkind with his Sword of Truth books and King with the Dark Tower books) through the end, despite, in my opinion, the decrease in quality of the books as the series progressed.  Goodkind’s series grew increasingly preachy and convoluted as it went along, but, after putting so much time into the series I had to finish it. I barely made it.  With King, I enjoyed the Dark Tower books, but he, in my opinion, did what no author should do and put himself into his books as a minor, but pivotal, character.  Then the way it ended felt like a giant middle finger to the readers that had been there all along. 

T: How did you get into Futurama?

MC: When the show started on FOX, I had no interest in it.  I had seen the commercials and thought it was stupid.  Family Guy was much funnier, I thought at the time.  In January 2003, Cartoon Network started showing reruns of the first three seasons.  At that time, I was pretty much not watching any TV because I was working two jobs.  So, one Sunday night after I got home, I went up to bed and turned on the TV to unwind, trying not to wake my wife up.  I flipped around and landed on Cartoon Network.  When I tried to keep going, the batteries were dead.  Not wanting to get up and either get new batteries or change the channel myself, I decided to sit through Futurama.  I got hooked instantly, and failed miserably in not waking the wife because I was laughing so hard. She just gave me The Look, and rolled over and went back to sleep.

The first new episode I saw was either The Sting or Spanish Fry, I forget which. But, it didn’t really matter because FOX canceled the show pretty much after I started watching.  So, went to the internet to look for all things Futurama and eventually found Can’t Get Enough Futurama and The Leela Zone.  Then, when the DVDs came out, I bought them and took them with me when I started to travel for work, watching a DVD full of episodes every night when I got back to my hotel.

T: What got you interesting in writing fan fiction?

MC: Like I said before, being a gamer tends to lead to writing, or at least the desire to write something.  And, like I mentioned before, I was reading some pretty dreadful fan fics.  I figured that I could do much better than some of these hacks, so I set out to prove it.  I started writing the basis for Ten Years Gone (TYG) in probably May or June of 2003, but never actually finished it.  Work changed for me around that time, and the drive that I had saved it on crashed so I lost everything with that story. Parts of what I remembered of it ended up going into the final version of TYG and Ghost of Xmas Past (GXP). 

T: Do you write any other types of fan fiction?

MC: No. I don’t really care enough about most things to start writing about them. There are tons of other fan fiction writers out there and I'm more comfortable with writing what I know. The only other thing I would consider doing fan fiction for would maybe be Star Wars, but George Lucas already wrote three lousy fan fics and made them into the Prequels Trilogy.

T: What type of stories do you like to write?

MC: I think I try to write more ship-ish fictions, dram-edies, if you will, if I can manage it.  I try to keep everything logical and put myself in Fry’s shoes. Were he a real person, we’d be about the same age, so I try to think how I would react in certain situations. Now, the challenge comes in that he is dumber than a box of hair.  Mike Judge (King of the Hill, Office Space, Beavis and Butt-head) once said that his biggest challenge in writing Beavis and Butt-head is that the title characters are just so dumb. And I see that as a problem with Fry. Thus, my Fry tends to be a little smarter than the official version, making him act out of character now and then.

My biggest challenge comes in intentionally writing comedy.  I can tell a good story, or so I’ve been told, with the occasional really good joke or comedy line thrown in, but doing an entire story that’s funny is something I haven’t been able to do yet. I’m trying it with the one I’m doing now, It’s Moidah!, but it’s taken a lot of rewrites and revisions to get as far as it has (only part 1 out of maybe 4 or 5 is done).

T: Concerning your own stories, what do you think of your material? How has it changed from when you started? Do you have any favorites? Anything, looking back, that’s cringe-worthy?

MC: I really like most of my material.  I’ve only done about 6 or 7 stories, I think, counting the new one.  After a while, like kids, they all start to blend together. 

My favorite, I’d say, is Ten Years Gone. It’s been with me the longest, so to speak, and it was the first one I ever started writing.  It’s also changed to the point of being almost unrecognizable from where it was at the beginning, which I think is a good thing, since what I remember of it didn’t make too much sense.   Meeting of the Mind was the first one I ever posted, and the generally good feedback I got for it went a long way to getting me to keep going.  The Amazing Grace Trilogy (Once Was Lost/Now Am Found/ Was Blind, But Now I See) was pretty good. Not exactly what I envisioned it to be when I first started to kick it around, but it turned out pretty good, I think.  Ties That Bind was another pretty good story. After I fixed the ending, that is. That original ending I posted in the FMMB was really bad. I rushed it, contradicting things I had posted earlier. It was a total mess. But, with some patience, some time on my hands, and some encouragement from a fan, it got finished right.  Stygia is a recently completed story that, like everything else, diverted from where I originally thought it would go. But, this one ended up staying closer to my original vision than everything else.  And, if you know your Sci-fi TV history, you’ll know who the mystery helper on the planet was. I left plenty of clues in there to his identity. 

There are two black holes in my record, though.  The first one is an unfinished story called Nuclear Winter.  I got the inspiration for it from a conversation about the nuclear bomb in the mutant church, and it led to a story about Fry and Leela having to hide their love and dueling mutant revolutionaries.  But, unlike the “official version” of the mutant revolution story (The Mutants Are Revolting), I have no idea where I’m going with it.  I stopped working on it sometime before I started Stygia, because I got to a point that I couldn’t continue from.  I may go back to it someday, but for now it’s just sitting out there unfinished.

The other is my biggest cringe-worthy story, Ghost of Xmas Past (GXP).  It was my long-time favorite, though, for the life of me after rereading it, I can’t imagine why.  I mean, I turned Fry in to Boba freakin’ Fett and reduced Leela to a pathetic damsel in distress! What in Robot Hell was I thinking? There are lots of good elements to the story (Fry adopting a child; a Fry/Amy relationship, which is almost never explored; and Leela regretting dumping Fry and then finding out, unfortunately, that she’s gotten her wish and Fry has moved on with his life and doesn’t care about her in that way anymore), but the 800-lb Dodecapodian in the room is that I turned Fry into Boba freakin’ Fett and reduced Leela to a pathetic damsel in distress! Yeah, it’s a decently written story, but, ugh.

T:   800-lb Dodecapodian, I like that.  So having been through the writing mill a few times now do you have any advice for prospective writers?

#1 Write logically – You can spell everything right, but if the story doesn’t make sense, no one is going to want to read the rest of it or after trying you again, anything else you write.  I’ve seen authors write tons of fics that people generally are ok with, but I won’t read anything by them because of a few bad experiences.

#2 Grammar and spell checkers are your friends – It doesn’t matter how good your story is, if you can’t get there, their, and they’re or your and you’re right, it shows to your reader that you don’t care enough about the story, so they shouldn’t either.

#3 Get a good proofreader, or several – A grammar and spell checker will only get you so far.  If the word is spelled right, it can still be the wrong word, and grammar checkers don’t always catch that.  Find a person that you trust to read your stuff and give you honest feedback about it. 

#4 Punctuation, punctuation, punctuation – Nothing is more annoying to a reader than run-on sentences that just keep going for line after line but don’t really go anywhere and just keep on going and going and going with no end in sight. A good proofreader will help with that, too.

#5 Take criticism seriously, to a degree – Constructive criticism is a good thing.  People leaving you feedback care enough to tell you what they think.  Listen to them.  If they make valid points, take their criticism to heart and heed it. But, you have to be able to tell the difference between genuine constructive criticism and people just shouting at you that <CHARACTER> WOULDN’T ACT THAT WAY!!!!!!

#6 You’ll never be 100% happy with your work – Writers are their own worst critics.  They tend to find minute little details that 99.9% of the readers miss and then make big deals out of them.

#7 Don’t take a lack of feedback too much to heart – Someone reads your stuff, but doesn’t leave a comment. It can be disheartening, but don’t take it too hard.  It may have just gotten lost in the shuffle. It happens sometimes. You suck it up and move on.

#8 Shut up and write – Just start putting pen to paper (or tapping the keys) and see where it goes. Also, have a plan for your fics, but be prepared for it to go completely out the window. I’ve found that a plan is good for a general outline, but I’ve gone off the rails from almost every one I’ve written.

T: When you talk about having a plan for your stories, do you actually write an outline or just scribble a few notes on a scrap of paper, or is it all in your head?

MC: When I start to write a story, I usually get a spiral notebook and write a general outline. From there I usually flesh it out with some more details and the occasional bit of dialog.  Depending on how I’m feeling, I may actually physically write the entire story long hand then go back with the draft and type it up.  But, for the most part, though, the stories are already in my head and I just go with that. 

T: When you "go off the rails" as you say, so you redo the plan or just run with it?

MC: It depends. If where I’ve gone off in a good direction, I just try and adapt the plan to where I’m at.  Otherwise, I scrap it and go back a ways to where it went off the rails.

T: When you are writing, do tend to write linearly from start to finish, or do you jump around? I ask 'cause I once wrote a fic backwards - started at the end and worked my way back.

MC: I go start to finish in one direction, just like time. It’s just easier for me to it that way.

T:  Makes sense.  I think one thing every writer runs into from time to time is the dreaded writers block. Ever had that happen? If so, how did you beat it?

MC: I give up. No, seriously. Oh, all right, I don’t’ give up, but I do walk away from the fic for a while to try and work through it.  I’ve gotten through it a couple of times, but I’m still trying to work through the block that I’ve got from Nuclear Winter, though.  The problem is that sometimes you write yourself into a corner and you can’t get out of it.  

T:  Heheh.  That's never happened to me.  *rolls eyes*   What other authors/artists inspired you or had other significant impact on your work?

MC: I’m not really influenced by many people, but the feedback and support I get from the more consistent commentators make me better, I think. Red_Line’s support on rewriting the end of Ties was invaluable in rescuing it from the crapper.  And Amyea is my most consistent supporter and proof-reader.  Without her, I doubt I’d get anything good done. She and I actually ‘met’ in one of the threads for one of the movies I think, and I almost started a fight with her about it. I’m sure it was something stupid, but we got over it and she’s become a good friend in spite of it.  Plus, getting regular positive comments from the big guys like Ramon, Archonix, Flounder, and Red_Line always makes me feel good.

I think I’ve actually influenced a writer, slightly. Early on, I was reading a story by Frosty and made a small suggestion, and she’s used it ever since, which I like.  She even included me in a story, first as a ghost and then as a zombie, which is also nice.

And on the other hand, there are plenty of authors whose style I try and stay far away from. I can’t even read their stuff. It just grates and irritates me so much.

T:  What, in your mind, are the characteristics of good fan fiction?

MC:  What makes a good fic?  A logical plot without too many holes, proper English (and by that, I mean grammer, spelling, etc.), and comedy is always a plus.  I guess, what it all comes down to, if you find something entertaining, even if someone else doesn't, it's a good fic. Yeah, I know the answer is sort of a cop-out, but it's still true.

T:  Your screen nome de plum MC but I happen to know that's short hand form something and that there's a tale to be told there.

MC: Funny story about that, Tim. In the role-playing games I had a character one time called Marloc Clownface.  He was an evil little dwarf that used his family and friends to get ahead in his life, like the one time he shoved his brother into a shaft of light just to see what it was. It killed the brother, but, hey, Marloc was evil.  But, my character and the other two in the group were evil, and we all did the same thing, so it was cool.  Anyway, one time the group ran into a nice little cursed item. Being the greedy jerk ass that he was, I used it first.  Turned out, it cursed the user into becoming a clown-faced thing.  So, I used it for character development and turned him even more insane. Which made it even more fun.

T: And that fit in nicely for use on FMMB too.     Oh, this big hole in the street reminds me, I kind of inferred in Ties That Bind where Fry ends up working for a difficult Geology professor and eventually gets a degree that a little real life is influencing the story.  Have other aspects of “real life” influenced your stories any?

MC: Real life things don’t get into my writing that much, actually.  Ties was the only real story that had any of my actual life in it.  I did have a Geology professor named Zimmerman, he was head of the department, he difficult to work with, and he did like me more than some of the others, for some reason. Plus, I did my field camp in Red Lodge, Montana and had more than my share of beverages at the Snow Creek Saloon.

T: You've mentioned your current project, It’s Moidah!, which is a parody of the "Film noir" genre of crime dramas with Fry in the character of the "hard boiled" private dick. How did this idea come to be?

MC: The idea came from my reading Bruce Campbell’s book, If Chin’s Could Kill. In it, he tells a story about how he and Sam Raimi wrote and produced an amateur movie called “It’s Murder!”. The movie was so bad, I think he said they only showed it once or twice before practically burning the film.  I’d always liked noir detective movies (my last name is Cagney, after all; probably related to Uncle Jimmy somewhere down the line), and I liked “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” the Steve Martin noir comedy that used clips from noir movies in a completely detached fashion.

T: Want to talk about anything that's in your idea queue for future development?

MC: At moment, I’m still working on Moidah!, I may have one or two things that I’m working up to, but I’m kind of iffy on them right now. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

T:  Ok, I'm sure we'll all be looking forward to whatever you come up with next.  Thanks very much for taking time out of your busy day to be interviewed.