FAQ

Mike was born in the Philadelphia Navy Yard Hospital — and left that town at the age of three days for reasons he does not presently recall. But they had to draft him to get him back there. He missed very little of the rest of the country. Growing up Navy, he lived about everywhere you could park an aircraft carrier. It wasn’t until high school that he finished a year in the school he started. This gave Mike an early introduction to geography, change … and the chain of command.

Mike was one of those college students who didn’t have to worry about finding a job after graduation. In 1968, his Uncle Sam made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Two days into boot camp, the Army was wondering if they might not have been a bit hasty. Mike ended the day in the Intensive Care Unit of the local Army hospital. He didn’t think he was that sick, but the only other bed free was in the maternity ward … and he really didn’t belong there. Despite most of Mike’s personal war stories being limited to “How I flunked boot camp,” he can still write a rollicking good military SF yarns.

Mike didn’t survive all that long as a cab driver (he got lost) or bartender (he made the drinks too strong) but he figured he could at least work for the Navy Department as a budget analyst. Until he spent the whole day trying to balance the barracks accounts for paint. Finally, about quitting time, a grinning senior analyst took him aside and let him in on the secret. They’d hidden the money for refitting a battleship in that little account. Slowly it dawned on Mike that there were a few things about the Navy that even a kid who grew up in it would never understand.

Mike’s next job was his break into writing. Working for the Civil Service Commission, he got to answer Congressional inquiry letters from irate people who flunked their exams. Once he even ghosted a letter for Vice President Spiro T. Agnew’s signature. Shortly after that, Agnew resigned to avoid prosecution. Mike is reasonably certain that he had nothing to do with that, though, with Mike’s writing, you can never be sure.

Over the next twenty years, Mike branched out into other genres, including instruction memos, policies, performance standards and even a few labor contracts. All of those, you may notice, lack a certain something. Dialogue … those things in quotes. However, he did get his introduction to public speaking. As a training officer, he got (had) to teach such hot topics as “The Fair Labor Standards and You.” “Performance Appraisals, a great way to spend quality time with your boss,” and that ever popular, “The Supervisor and your New Union.” This taught Mike early that there were thousands of out-of-work stand-up comics and it was a good idea to keep your day job.

In ’87, Mike’s big break came. He landed on a two year special project to build a digital map showing where the trees, rivers, roads, Spotted Owls and other critters were in western Oregon. The list went on and on with no end in sight and two years became ten. As the gigabytes of data and the number of revisions grew, Mike gained a new respect for the Earth’s ecosystem. It hides its secrets in a massively complex system with enough chaotic tendencies thrown in to keep anyone who studies it humble.

Since there was no writing involved in his new day job, Mike had to do something to get the words out. He signed up for a writing class at Clark Community College and proudly turned in a story … Star Wars shoots down the second coming of Christ. First person to review the story said it was as good as anything she read in Analog. (Stan didn’t agree. He and every other editor in Science Fictiondom turned it down. Though fifteen years later a complete rewrite sold to Oceans of the Mind. Hmm.) The second reviewer had spent a bit more time in the class. He asked where the dialogue was, “You know, the stuff in quotes.” About that time it hit Mike that writing Science Fiction might be a bit harder than negotiating a labor contract.

Two years later, Analog bought “Summer Hopes, Winter Dreams” for the March, 1991 issue. Four years later he sold his first novel. In the ten years since then, Mike’s turned in twelve novels and is researching the next three.

Mike’s love for Science Fiction started when he picked up “Rocket Ship Galileo” in the fifth grade, and then proceeded to read every book in the library with a rocket sticker on its spine.

Mike digs for his stories among people and change. Through his interest in history, he has traces the transformations that make us what we are today. Science launches us forward into an ever changing universe. Once upon a time, the only changes in peoples lives came with the turning of the seasons and the growing wrinkles on their brows. Today, science drives most of the changes in our daily lives. Still, we can’t avoid the pressure of our own awakening hormones or hardening arteries. Mike is happiest when his stories are speeding across thin ice, balanced on the edge of two sharp blades, one anciently human, the other as new as tomorrow’s research.

Trained in International Relations and history, salary administration and bargaining, theology and counselling, Mike is having a ball writing about Kris Longknife … coming of age while the world her grand parents built threatens to crash down around her ears. These are books I think you’ll love … and my granddaughter and grandsons too!

Mike lives in Vancouver, Washington, with his wife Ellen, his mother-in-law and any visiting grandkids. He enjoys reading, writing, watching grand-children for story ideas and upgrading his computer — all are never ending.
Why did you change your name from Mike Moscoe to Mike Shepherd. Are you hiding something?

As a matter of fact, I am. But not from my readers. It’s those pesky computers I’m hiding from.

My first three books as Mike Moscoe was a trilogy that sold, respectfully, 12,000, 6,000 and 4,000. And there was nothing respectful about that third book’s sales.

I’m a fast writer so I had First Casualty turned in and Price of Peace already under contract when those lousy numbers started to show up. My editor had suggested I switch from time travel back to 4,000 BC to military SF 300 years from now and boy was I glad she did. (Rule One: Always listen to your editor. They know a lot more than you do about this insane business.)

The military Space Opera books recovered to 10, 11 K sales. But no higher.

This often is the end of a writer’s career. The computers that control the buying at one of the main stores would not let me live the third books sales down. They were ordering only two books and not reordering when those sold.

So Ace offered to relaunch me under a new name. I’d been warned about this by older and more experienced writers, so I was ready. And quick as a bunny, I was Mike Shepherd. And Ace did their part. Mike Sheperd got much better cover art then that Moscoe guy ever got. Oh, and Mike Shepherd knew Elizabeth Moon and S. M. Sterling and was able to mooch some neat cover quotes. It is truly amazing what you can do when your first novel is your seventh.

Indeed, if a writer is doing a lot of writing, he or she may well need several names to survive in this business. For example, Harry Turtledove writes SF books with sales in the 100K. When he writes Historical novels that are lucky to have sales in the 5K area, he uses the original spelling of his name, Harry Turtalov (or something like that.) That way, those pesky computers don’t lower his SF sales to match his historical sales.

Different genres also have different print runs. A SF novel with a 20K print run is respectable. A Fantasy usually will have a 40K run. Mystery, say 60K, and Romance 100K. Advice is if you are going to write in any of those, be sure to have a different name for each of them.

It’s not just the computers, though. Some people love SF and hate Fantasy. If an SF writer suddenly started putting out Fantasy, the SF readers might not follow. Similarly, for the other genres. It’s not that way for all writers. Barbara Hambly uses her own name for all the genres she writes in. Keven Anderson has been told that he can’t use any other name than the one he’s made in SF. Lois McMaster Bujold seems to be making the jump to Fantasy from Space Opera, though I have head some grumbling from a reader or two. None of her major fans, but a few of her dyed in the wool SF types.

So that’s the game these days on names. If you look back at a lot of writers in the 50’s and 60’s you’ll see that they were writing under many names. This is not really new. But in the last two or three years, three of my closest writing friends have been asked if they’d reflag, and, based on my experience and advice, two did and are back up to speed. The third declined the honor and is only selling to small press. Such are the decisions writers face.
Why does it take so long for a Kris book to come out. If you’ve written it, why can’t I read it?

Because I’m not J. K. Rowlings and, sorrow of sorrows, Ace doesn’t make a million bucks off one of my books.

November 1, sharp, I turn in the book, along with a suggestion of what would make a good cover for it, usually gal with gun. Big gun. And sometime early in the new year Ace commissions the cover art.

While you may be waiting anxiously for the next book, it usually takes my editor a month or two after I turn in the book for her to find time to print it out and read it. Remember, she’s got to get the books that are in final production out and in the store, so she may end up reading my book in her spare time, on the bus to work or at home on her own time.

Then the book goes to the copy editor, a contractor who notices that I misspelled Chance on page 195 and 429 and changed the mayor’s name half way through the book and…I get a copy of those edits some time around March with a due date usually in two weeks. This is when I make any final changes I may want in the book.

Somewhere along this time, when the cover art comes in, my editor, Ginjer Buchanan will met with the sales staff and I’ll write up an exciting two or three pages treatment on the book that, hopefully, they will read, get excited about and push the book. However, a lot of the decisions as to how many books this or that store or system will buy are made just by someone glancing at the cover … and at the computer print out of the sales for my last book during the first six weeks it was out. (Now that’s another topic in itself.)

Sometime around July or August the galley proofs come out. Those are the page proofs that will be used for the print runs. One sure way for a writer to make their editor hopping mad is to ask for major changes on those galleys. However, if there’s something really wrong, now is when you want to catch them. For example, I had a major goof in my word choices on page one of Resolute.

Now you can see how a year goes by between me turning in a book and you seeing it. Does it go that way for everyone? Nope.

If someone like J. K. Rowling or Tom Clancy turns in a book the publisher has paid $10 million for, you bet they are going to rush it through production and get it on the racks as quickly as possible. They really want to get that money flowing back to them. Also, a bigger name may be late turning in a book and my editor may have to really work at getting out a book in 6 months rather than 12. Me, I like to make it easy for my editor. If you ever get into writing, I’d suggest you be an easy writer, one who meets his deadlines. It may encourage the publisher to offer you a name change if the sales under your first name bomb.

So it is that Ace gives me a year to write the book and I get them a year to produce them. While I may be trying to write two books a year, I’m still glad that Ace only wants one Kris book a year, I think I can do a better job of storytelling when I’m thinking about her adventures for a solid year.

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