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Author Spotlight: Michael Solis

Michael Solis

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: Michael Solis is from New Jersey and currently lives in Nairobi, Kenya. He has spent the past sixteen years working in development and humanitarianism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. A Princeton graduate, he has master’s degrees in human rights law and gender studies. While traveling, he fell in love with telling thought-provoking stories based on his personal experiences. Deficient is his debut novel.

Thanks so much, Michael, for joining me!

J. Scott Coatsworth: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it. 

Michael Solis: Deficient is my debut novel. It is a YA, science-fiction book that takes place in a future world where humans have evolved to acquire supernatural abilities. However, a small percentage of the population has failed to evolve. Labelled as Deficients, they are loathed by the superpowered majority. The fifteen-year-old protagonist, Alejandro Aragon (Alé), is a Deficient who faces a brutal existence in his home, school, and society. When his best and only friend disappears in a hate crime against her ability type, he has to figure out who’s responsible and what happened before it’s too late, all without having an ability of his own.

I have always been interested in superhero lore and the retellings of superhero stories that emerged from the 1930s to 1960s. In many of these stories, the superheroes are a minority that protect a “normal” majority. However, I wanted to write a book that flipped the script on that by capturing a world where the majority of humans had evolved to acquire supernatural abilities, while a small minority of “powerless” individuals called Deficients had been left behind.

Deficient started with a question—what would happen if we were to evolve in a fundamental way that affected the very nature of our human experience? Would we take the high road and do this peacefully, or would we slip into our old habits of creating castes and justifying discrimination? I chose the latter in Deficient, partially because the former wouldn’t have made for a very good book. But I also suspected, perhaps cynically, that “accelerated” humans would make mistakes—big ones that would be amplified by their supernatural abilities.

JSC: Have you ever taken a trip to research a story? Tell me about it. 

MS: My life has turned into one long series of trips! Over the past sixteen years, I’ve been fortunate to live and work in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America, and I’ve infused aspects of these experiences into my writing. When I wrote Deficient, I was living in El Progreso, Honduras and working for the Organization for Youth Empowerment (OYE). Many of the youth I worked with were grappling with issues like poverty, gender inequality, discrimination, pressure to emigrate, and gang violence. They possessed a sense of resilience that seemed uncanny, and that was something I wanted Deficient’s protagonist, Alejandro, to embody. It also brought me back to my own journey of resilience growing up as a queer kid in the nineties.

The character of Yalamba is based on one of my closest friends from Sierra Leone whose indomitable spirit and sense of humor kept me going as we supported responses to crises like Ebola, mudslides, floods, and the Covid pandemic. Cultures may differ, but friendships are universal, and I wanted Deficient to capture the beauty of friendship in a diverse, futuristic setting.

JSC: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? 

MS: It’s not always possible to find the perfect time and place to write. Fight for those stolen moments if you really want to make it happen, and don’t give up on your ideas. It took me over a decade to get Deficient published, and I used that time to seek constructive feedback from different sources and refine the manuscript. It’s also okay to move on from projects if that allows you to create something new, but if you commit yourself to something, try your best to finish it. You owe it to yourself and that idea to bring it into the world. Lastly, rejection is something we must learn to get used to as writers. As difficult as it can feel, rejection can make us stronger and thicken up our skin. Listen to the feedback you receive, be open to any patterns emerging from that feedback, and don’t be afraid to make changes or try new things to see what might happen. It might become magic!

JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones? 

MS: Many writers have told me not to read my reviews, but I think that advice is rubbish! I love hearing what readers think about my work, and I’m grateful to anyone who takes the time to craft and share their thoughts. Admittedly, my soul lights up when I read a positive review, but I am all ears when it comes to constructive criticism. I just ask that people keep things civil. For bad reviews, I typically summon vengeance demons to do the dirty work for me. (Nah, just kidding!). In reality, I try to see where the reader is coming from and accept things as they are. There are bigger battles worth fighting in this world than bad reviews.

JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if Deficient? If so, discuss them. 

MS: Deficient starts from a point where humans have overcome the kinds of social constructs around race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation that currently divide us. This sounds great, but we quickly see that most humans in this world have bought into the social constructs associated with the hierarchy of superpowers—with Deficients being the untouchables of the caste system. 

I intentionally wanted the characters to represent a rainbow of diversity, with representation that includes different racial and ethnic backgrounds, fluidity around sexual orientation and identity, and people with disabilities. I drew from my own voice, queerness, and Mexican American background when creating Alé and his family. 

Overall, I wanted Alejandro to represent anyone struggling to make sense of growing up in a world that can be cruel and unfair—someone who looks everywhere but inside for the answers until inside becomes the only place left for discovery.

JSC: What was the hardest part of writing this book? 

MS: It was a struggle to give Alé a sense of agency as a Deficient, given that he is a character who, like me growing up, doesn’t have much innate self-confidence. It took several revisions before agency began to flower in a character who often struggles to stand up for himself. I’m very happy Alé turned out the way he did—extremely intelligent, fiercely loyal to those who treat him with respect, and a bit of a smart aleck, even when it’s not in his immediate interests.

JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about them. 

MS: Landon Waters, probably because I have a thing for bullies. Bullies become the people they are for certain reasons. Understanding these reasons, for me, is the heart of character creation. I love exploring why people behave the way they do and why they make the choices they make. Having been bullied myself, I’m curious to explore the moral grayness of this archetype. I believe that within every bully there is a human being. I also believe that most humans, at one point or another, have assumed the bully archetype in our quest to assert our place and power. And, so often, this stems from a place of deep insecurity.

I’m also very curious about what causes a bully to transform and be redeemed…as well as what causes other bullies to stagnate or change for the worse.

JSC: What was the first book that made you cry? 

MS: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. I still mourn for Old Dan and Little Ann!

JSC: What other artistic pursuits (it any) do you indulge in apart from writing? 

MS: I’ve always loved drawing and painting, but I’m more of a doodler during meetings kind of person these days. I used to play the trumpet many moons ago and miss it! Karaoke helps fill the void.

JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!

MS: I’m working on the sequel to Deficient as we speak! I’m currently processing the edits from my editor. The sequel takes place a few months after Deficient ends. What I can say now is that we get to see more of the world outside of Achewon Egalitarian Academy, and the stakes are raised high for the characters…very, very high.

Deficient - Michael Solis

And now for Michael’s latest book: Deficient:

The near future is progressively free from discrimination based on race, class, and sexual orientation. But in a world populated by the gifted, fifteen-year-old Alejandro Aragon (Alé) is part of the only remaining minority—he’s a Deficient. Powerless. The one that accelerated genetics left behind.

Alé knows that he’ll need a miracle to graduate and pursue his dream of a legal career in the capital. His only ally is his best friend Yalamba, an outspoken and exceptionally gifted artist renowned for her unique ability to draw things into existence. But when she’s kidnapped in a hate crime against her ability, it appears that Alé has every motive and no believable alibi.

To prove his innocence and track down the real culprit, Alé teams up with the other outcasts in school, who each have their own reasons for getting involved. But the deeper they dig, the more they fear Yalamba’s kidnapping is linked to a string of unsolved murders against the exceptionally gifted.

With time running out, Alé must discover who he really is if he and his new friends plan to track down the culprit, clear his name, and rescue Yalamba—all before she herself is drawn out of existence.

Publisher | Amazon | Audible | iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | | Chapters/Indigo | GooglePlay | Kobo | Waterstones


Chapter 1: Hyenas and Cowards

Life never goes the way you want it to when you’re a Deficient. It’s a lesson I learned long ago—seven years ago, to be exact.

Now, at fifteen, it’s one I’m reminded of every morning on the way to the academy.

My forehead cools as I rest it against the smooth glass of the shuttle bus window. I don’t bother paying attention to the hovering vehicles outside or the bright blue lights of the highway. Instead, I watch raindrops race to the bottom of the foggy window.

Some drops are bigger than others. They gobble up the smaller ones as they slide down, but the big ones pay the price for their size. After absorbing so many of the tiny droplets, they grow too large to sustain themselves. They succumb to gravity, falling from the window to their deaths on the illuminated highway below.


My thoughts snap back to my surroundings, and my eyes dart to the biggest droplet of all—a gooey glob of saliva that’s splashed near the upper corner on the inside of my window.

I grit my teeth. Idiots.

The fourth-year Atlases sitting across the aisle cackle away.

“You missed, moron!” one says.

“I won’t next time,” the second replies.

My skin prickles with goose bumps—a familiar sign of fight or flight. But fleeing isn’t possible, and fighting won’t help. The evolutionary theorists should have come up with a third option for a Deficient who’s backed into a corner. With their enhanced strength, Atlases can do whatever they want with someone like me.

“Aren’t you gonna stand up for yourself, defective loser?” the third one asks.

I fail to answer the question—a trick that usually buys me some time, though it tends to generate immediate resentment.

“Say something, defect!”

“He’s so stupid he can’t even talk,” says the first. Ironic, since his brain is dimmer than a black hole.

Knowing I can only remain silent for so long, I let out a deep sigh before turning away from the window to stare at them.

Something,” I mutter.

Their eyebrows narrow, and their words transform into snarls. They remind me of a pack of rabid dogs.

“This Deficient fecker thinks he’s smart.”

The second Atlas inhales and releases another wad of phlegm that spurts out so fast I can’t dodge it. It hits me hard on the cheek, forcing me to turn toward the window once again.

Splat! Splat! Splat! Splat!

I raise my arm to block the onslaught of spit. It ends after a few seconds. The Atlases laugh and give each other high fives.

I wipe at the warm, sticky moisture on my face with the sleeve of my academy jacket. The contrast between the gooey yellow mucous and black fabric makes my stomach churn.

I want to hurl every curse I know at the Atlases, but I bite my tongue. Provoking them was a stupid mistake. Acting on my emotions never ends well.

Two years until I’m out of Achewon. It feels like forever, but it will come eventually. Counting down the hours left in the day usually helps—a reminder that time is, in fact, passing—though it’s a little early in the morning to start doing that.

The shuttle bus comes to a stop. The Atlases get up and laugh their way down the aisle. Quieter kids look away as they rush past my seat. None are willing to stand up in my defense, let alone look me in the eye. They scamper to the exit, panicking as if the shuttle bus had suddenly gone ablaze.

They’re hyenas and cowards, all of them.

Once all the students have passed, I slide my backpack over my shoulder and make for the door. The shuttle bus driver looks out the window instead of rewarding me with a goodbye or wishing me a great day like he does the other students. I don’t mind. I’ve had seven years to get used to not being acknowledged.

The shuttle bus lifts into the air and starts to accelerate before I can dismount. Thanks, Mr. Shuttle Bus Driver. I jump. My legs wobble when I touch the ground, but my landings seem to be getting better.

I take in the dampness of the November air before I see it—the place I hate more than any other on this planet.

Achewon Egalitarian Academy.

I shudder. Seven hours down. Only seventeen more to go.

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