Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, M.D. Neu – M.D. Neu is an international award-winning inclusive queer Fiction Writer with a love for writing and travel. Living in the heart of Silicon Valley (San Jose, California) and growing up around technology, he’s always been fascinated with what could be. Specifically drawn to Science Fiction and Paranormal television and novels, M.D. Neu was inspired by the great Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Stephen King, Alice Walker, Alfred Hitchcock, Harvey Fierstein, Anne Rice, and Kim Stanley Robinson. An odd combination, but one that has influenced his writing.
Growing up in an accepting family as a gay man he always wondered why there were never stories reflecting who he was. Constantly surrounded by characters that only reflected heterosexual society, M.D. Neu decided he wanted to change that. So, he took to writing, wanting to tell good stories that reflected our diverse world.
When M.D. Neu isn’t writing, he works for a non-profit and travels with his biggest supporter and his harshest critic, Eric his husband of twenty plus years.
Thanks so much, M.D., for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
M.D. Neu: When I hit my twenties and came out as a gay man, I tried to find books/novels that reflected me and who I was. Keep in mind I had already read Interview with the Vampire and even though I love the book, I read the story when I was younger and not willing to come out. Anyway, once I came out I sought out gay fiction. What I ended up finding was romance, which is fine, but that wasn’t what I was after. Plus, a lot of these stories were written by people, who I didn’t feel really understood gay men or their emotions. We are more than sex. These novels by these authors seemed to be written for an audience other than me.
During this time, I was taking a writing class and an acting class in college. I realized that I always loved talking and telling stories, so why not try and write something. And I did. I started work on this family drama that dealt with a guy whose family didn’t accept him and his partner. The story was a mess and I gave up. I let that novel sit for ten or so years. I continued to pick at the writing thing off and on during this time… but life, you know. Then when I reached my thirties I started to ponder the whole writing thing again. I dusted off my old family drama story and started anew. What sprang from that awful story became (after several more years) my award-winning Sci Fi novel series A New World; Book 1- Contact and Book 2-Concivtion. I also worked on additional stories during this time; The Calling being one of them. Different stories continued to come to mind. All of them about other people who I felt didn’t have their stories told. Which led me to my latest novel T.A.D. – The Angel of Death.
Honestly, I don’t think I’m good at writing. I see all these amazing authors around me. I read all their works and I never feel I measure up. I know other authors feel this as well, or so I’m told. For me, writing isn’t about being good (although I would like to think I’m improving with each new work) but story telling is about having fun. I enjoy writing. The idea of crafting new worlds with new characters excites me. I think as long as I feel this way I will continue to write, and hopefully improve.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
MN: I love writing Sci Fi, Paranormal, and Urban Fantasy. These would be my genres I’m at home in. I think my style of writing is relaxed. When I write I try and approach the story like a movie or stage production. I want to give the reader all the information they need to visualize the story. I want them, as they read, to feel they are watching the story unfold around them. I also don’t want them to learn more than the characters. If the MC is confused, then the reader should be confused. Hopefully, the reader will never understand more than what the character does. At least that is what I go for.
I hope it works.
I know that some readers don’t like that, and it’s okay, then my stories may not be for them, but at least I hope they understand why I made the choices I did.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
MN: Authors shouldn’t read their reviews. Reviews aren’t for us, they are for other readers. But how can we not read them. You can learn a lot from a review, even the bad ones. Speaking of, when it comes to bad reviews I try and find any helpful nuggets I can in them. Someone took the time to write the negative review, so the least I can do is try to find what they didn’t like about the book and see if it can be addressed in my next novel. On the flip side, when it comes to good reviews, I adore them and they make me feel all warm and fuzzy. Good Reviews also make me feel like less of a fraud.
JSC: Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
MN: I write what I love to read. I love Sci Fi, Urban Fantasy, Fantasy, and Paranormal so I write those types of stories because these are what I missed when I was younger. Now people have more books to pick from and I can add my voice to that mix.
In order to balance my writing, I typically only write one (maybe two) stories at a time. This allows me to focus and keep the story straight. Also, I will take breaks as I write to work on something else. Doing this clears out the cobwebs and lets my ideas work through; sometimes consciously but often unconsciously.
JSC: What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
MN: Authors need a variety of tools and for each author their tools are going to be different. For me an absolute must is an ability to travel. I’ve been lucky in my life and I’ve gotten to travel quite a bit, not as much as I would like, but still quite a bit. Authors need to experience the world in order to write about it. I wrote a whole blog post about this subject that people can find here: https://www.mdneu.com/blog/why-authors-need-to-travel
The key is, authors should write what they know and if you are going to write a book that takes place in New York (as I did with T.A.D.-The Angel of Death) then you better understand the area you are writing about. I traveled to New York and spent a week there, this gave me the ability to describe the city in a way that on-line research or talking to locals won’t give you.
So, the best tool an author can have in their pocket is a list of locations they’ve traveled too. I believe readers can tell if an author speaks from a position of knowing, so never underestimate the value of picking up and taking a drive or jumping on a plane and flying to someplace new. You never know what might inspire you.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for this book?
MN: T.A.D.-The Angel of Death is personal for me. The story revolves around Teddy a ‘fluffy’ Drag Queen who has family issues, a pension of partying a bit too much, and big dreams. I wanted to show readers a world that they don’t always get to see.
When I came out I was befriended by a couple of local Drag Queens. And despite their fun and crazy personas they had real issues that got brushed away. I think what we forget when we see performers, especially Drag Performers, is that they are real people with lives and dreams. They hurt and bleed like the rest of us. And I wanted to show this world, not in a ‘poor’ me sort of way, but in a real way. A way to celebrate their lives.
I also wanted to tell a ‘what if’ story about 9/11. This is not an easy topic to write about and I didn’t want to underplay the importance of the event. Plus, this story isn’t mine to tell, so my novel only has 9/11 as a backdrop. For me I often thought about 9/11 and how so few people died that day (I’m not downplaying the loss of life here) any loss of life is important. However, what struck me about 9/11 is that those building on any typical week day held 50,000 people or more, and yet only 2977 people died in those towers that day. How? What happen? Why? Was there a greater hand at work that day? I don’t know, but those thoughts always played in my mind.
The other thing that sticks with me about 9/11 is that I was there in New York a few weeks prior to the events and I spent time in the Twin Towers amazed by the architecture and how huge those buildings were. I remember thinking nothing could take those buildings down…how wrong I was.
With those thoughts playing around in my mind. The need to honor my Drag friends who are no longer here (they are who this novel is dedicated too) and wanting to explore the events of 9/11, T.A.D was born.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
MN: My goal was a simple one. Tell the story of a Drag Queen, showing their life and what it’s like and how they live their life. We get to explore this from when he is in his prime all the way through his later years. I wanted to show my Drag Queens as real people and not characters for our amusement.
I like to think I did this well. I’ve gotten mix feedback on the story; some people love it and others don’t. I wrote this to honor my friends and I hope they approve, everything else is cake.
JSC: What were the challenges in bringing the story to life?
MN: For this novel, there were a lot of challenges. The most important one was getting all the subtle details correct. The story starts in 2001 and ends in 2071. So, getting the historical details correct were key, you wouldn’t think 19 years ago was that long ago, but when it comes to music, fashion, technology, etc., it really was a different time. There was a lot to get right, and both my editor and I went back and forth on quite a bit of information that is presented in the novel. Even the facts about the terror attacks needed to be correct. Then you had how Mayor Ruby Giuliani went from being a hero at the time to being what he is now. All these details were key, even trying to portray the anger people felt including using terms that readers 19 years later would find offensive. It was a difficult balancing act one I’m still not sure I got 100% correct.
JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
MN: When it came to reading as a kid. Nope. I hated it. I’m dyslexic, severely so, reading and writing were my enemies. It wasn’t until junior high and high school that I started to take pleasure in reading, even then, just like now, reading is difficult. If I’m tired I have to stop reading or writing because the words stop making sense to me.
What actually helps me is that I have a great memory, if I read something once I will remember it, so I can read a story once and if I enjoy the novel, the story will stick with me. So that makes reading more fun… at least now.
JSC: What are you working on now?
MN: Currently, I’m finishing up the edits for the sequel to my debut novel, The Calling. The Called will be released in March 2021 and will wrap up the adventures of Christopher, Kirtus, Juliet, and Victor for now at least. Also, I’m working on a new fantasy story that takes place about 100 years from now, which is fun, and I’m about half way through the first draft right now. Additionally, I have the third book in my Sci Fi series A New World set to come out later in 2021; that novel is titled: Conspiracy. You can imagine what that is going to be about. And lastly, I’ve been working on a couple of short stories that I’m hoping to get those published. So, I have a few things going on.
Thank you Scott for having me today. I appreciate you taking the time to do this.
JSC: Always happy to have you, pal. 🙂
Tad bounces around in time and watches mankind grow and change. He loves humanity and helping when he can. However, his job isn’t conducive to helping people—he’s an Angel of Death.
Doug is a fun-loving drama queen. He’s an amazing drag queen and hairstylist with big dreams, but despite his witty exterior, he has a dark history and is prone to self-destruction.
When Tad pushes the boundaries of his duties too far, his wings are stripped away from him, and he is sent to New York City to live as a human. Lost and alone he ends up meeting Doug, and they start a friendship that shapes them both and may last a lifetime. But nothing is simple when you’re dealing with a former Angel of Death and a Drag Queen. Could these two cause the fabric of our world to collapse or will they manage to keep the future as it should?
Walking between the past, present, and future, seeing what I’ve seen, isn’t for everyone.
One day, I can be in San Francisco on October 17, 1989. On another—well, it was longer than a day, more like half a year—I was in Petrograd and Moscow from March through November, 1917. That was a busy time. On my favorite day, as tragic as it was, I was at Alpha Base, Mars, on September 21, 2051. There was so much hope and heroism on Mars that day. I’d go back and relive it anytime.
When I think about all I’ve seen, in the grand scheme of the universe, it’s not even a blink of an eye. However, what I’ve been left with is one overlying thought: humanity is amazing.
No matter what happens, humans keep moving forward. Humanity is a joy to witness and be a part of. Even in my own small way.
Humans here—at this time—aren’t much different from in other realities.
I’ve been to three. There are more, but I’m still pretty new. In one, mankind has paranormal creatures living among them. The humans don’t know it, but they are there, living and working together. I wonder what would happen if the humans on that world knew about the paranormal creatures in their midst? Something like that would be up to the Fates to decide. Which is way over my pay grade. I doubt I’ll find out, but anything’s possible.
On another alternate Earth, aliens have arrived. The good kind. That has been an interesting scenario to witness. I’m not sure the humans in that dimension were really ready for aliens, but they didn’t have much of a choice. The Arches and Fates were working overtime there, and I’ll admit, considering how bad it could have been, well, it turned out pretty good for both the humans and the aliens. At least from what I’ve been told and seen.
The last reality I’ve witnessed so far has none of those things. It’s the Earth I’m on right now. The one where my work takes me today. These humans still accomplish great things, but they’re alone, at least as far as I know.
A loud blare of a taxicab’s horn shifts my focus. I check up the street at all the people and traffic. This is such a busy and noisy place. I don’t understand how anyone can think.
As much as I’d like to, I don’t get to spend all my days bouncing between realities. I’ve heard from my brothers and sisters there is an Earth where magic and dragons exist. That would be pretty neat to see. Maybe another time. Today, I have a job to do, helping the dead. Unfortunately, I can’t always interfere with history, especially if the event is a major convergence point. You know, something like the Black Death, or the fall of the Roman Empire, something hugely important to human development. So, I can’t stop a dictator from rising. I can’t keep millions from dying. But I can help those who die cross over and make their journey painless.
Sometimes, people don’t want to leave, and who am I to tell them they have to go? Yes, it’s upsetting, because I know the suffering they are going through, and I can help them, but I can’t force them. Some think they have unfinished business, and that might be the case, but not for all of them. Those spirits don’t want to let go, and they think staying is better. It’s not. But I let them stay. I will, however, come back and check on the lingering deceased from time to time. Most souls eventually come around and let me help them. That’s always a nice feeling.
To date, I’ve never lost a single soul. Everyone I’m responsible for gets crossed over, maybe a little late, but they still get to where they are supposed to go. Not many of my brothers and sisters can make that claim. Maybe that’s why I’m able to get away with messing with fate and altering the timeline.
Inhaling the fall morning air brings back so many memories. I wish it could always be like this. It can’t, of course. Without the sadness and the pain, humans wouldn’t know how to celebrate the happiness and the pleasure.
I check the sky. Nothing yet.
Sitting on the park bench, I adjust my arms, flexing my wings as a pug trots over to sniff my feet. The dog’s caregiver tries to tug at the leash to get the pug to move. The man can’t see me, which is a great perk of my job. I don’t think most people would appreciate or understand my current appearance, but animals do. I reach down and pat her head.
I love animals. Dogs. Cats. I love them all. Now, working with animals would have been a good job to have. Helping the animals cross over. They never complain, and they’re always happy to have the attention. I’ve heard some choose to stay and watch over their caregivers and wait for them.
Now that’s dedication.
Finally, the man comes over and attempts to pick up the pug. He has no clue why she stopped. I wave my hand and she trots off, confusing the man even more. I chuckle through my exhalation.
I rest my arms across the back of the bench and sigh as I glance up at the twin buildings. I’ll be honest, I’ve played with how many die, who dies and when, but I have to be careful. I can really screw things up, and I don’t want to do that. Fixing reality is no easy task, and they never get it just right again. Too many variables, I guess. And way above my pay grade. That work gets handled only by the top Arches and the boss. Anyway, the trick for me is finding the balance. Like I did in 1989.
My time in San Francisco and Santa Cruz, California, on October 17, 1989 worked out well, and I count it as a huge success. I was able to find the sweet spot, the perfect balance between life and death. All I had to do was make a few of my tweaks, and the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics were in the World Series. The Battle of the Bay, they called it. I called it a job well done. Only sixty-three people died, instead of almost twenty-five thousand. Who says baseball can’t save lives.
I suppose the changes didn’t affect the timeline much. Well, at least, I didn’t get in trouble. I’ve heard punishment can be bad. So that’s good.
The shadow of War flashes above me.
Right on time.
She’s scary but misunderstood, like all of us. Still, my wings tighten, remembering the deaths she’s caused.
I don’t like to focus on my failures throughout history because there have been so many. Sometimes, there is nothing I can do. Certain moments in time only offer me small amounts of wiggle room, and humans are as bloodthirsty as they are kind.
My wings tighten again, and I scout around. It feels like there’s another one of us here.
It’s hard not to help, because I want to. I was created to help. We all were. I’ve been reprimanded—well, warned I could be put on probation or dismissed—and reminded I do help, and I do make a difference, so I should be happy with that. Leave fate in the hands of others. The Arches take care of human’s fate. They ensure what is to happen, happens. It’s not up to me.
I often wonder if I could be an Arch. Really play with fate, and decide more than just life and death. Decide when events happen if they happen at all, who is born when, how to alter the timeline for the best results. I don’t think they have it so tough. They get to write the past, present, and future and that gives them a lot of flexibility, but there are whispers about how they leave their positions. Some have fallen. The idea makes my wings shudder, but sadly, it happens.
Not too often.
I check the sky, not seeing anything notable yet. I wonder if the Arches are involved today? Maybe. It’d make sense. I massage the spot between my back and the base of my wings.
I can hear the Arches now when they lecture me.
“You do good work,” the Arches tell me. “Be happy with your job.”
And for a short time, I will be.
Then I’ll watch something awful happen, like I did today, and my wings will tingle all over again.
I have to act. I have to change things. I know I’m only supposed to shuttle the dead. That’s my job, but sometimes, one has to bend the rules to make things right.
Humans, you are beautiful and wonderful, so creative. Watching you come to be, I can see why some of my brothers and sisters were envious. You’ve got a lot, including free will. However, you didn’t get everything. There were counterbalances to your gifts; limited lifespan, pain, suffering, and worst of all, in my opinion, heartache.
That is something I’ll never experience, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little jealous.
It makes my wings shudder to think about the amount of suffering you go through and cause throughout your short lives. Which is why, on a day like today, I bend the rules, just a little. Despite this moment of respite, it’s been incredibly busy for me.
I don’t expect praise or thanks, because the truth is, people are still going to die, some in awful ways. They are going to leave behind families and friends, and there will be so much sorrow. Not only for their families but for the country and the whole world. I wish I could do more for those left behind, but that is a job for my brothers and sisters.
I’ve done what I can. And really, a few lives continuing on won’t affect the future. Today, I’ve made several trains run late. I’ve made some people oversleep. I’ve made mundane matters urgent for those they affect. I made a small group of airplane passengers brave and courageous. In years to come, their daring will still be talked about. Hopefully, I’ve done enough to make everyone’s passing as painless as possible. What I’ve altered won’t stop the events to come and my tweaks won’t help a great many people, but I’m limited. This event is too important. Too painful. The ramifications will drive the humans and their future to the next fixed point.
Under three thousand people was my hope, and I did it. So that is something I’m very proud of. I’m getting better at my manipulation of people and events.
I glance up at the sky and watch.
It’s 8:40 a.m., and I’ve got to cross over just under three thousand people from three different locations. These deaths are so much less than the almost forty-three thousand it would have been without my interference. And nothing near the almost half a million people over the next two weeks from a different part of the world that will keep me and my brothers and sisters busier than we care to be. So, for the next two days, my wings will get a workout. But I’m feeling pretty good. I saved five hundred forty thousand people this time, the most people saved yet for this event.
This is my last attempt. I stand. I’ve tried five different times, and I can’t risk another go. Plus, I think my boss is coming around to my tricks. After today, I won’t be able to come back to this day, at least not to change things, but maybe I’ll come back to visit.
In the distance, I see the first plane heading for the first tower. Time to get to work. I flex my wings, stretching them out. Enjoying their heaviness before I take to the air.
My name is Death, and I’m going to have a busy day.