Finalist Spotlight

Michael Darling

#1 bestselling author Michael Darling has worked as a butcher, a librarian, and a magician, which turned out to be an ideal set of skills for a fiction writer. He lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains with his wife and grown-up kids where he writes award-winning stories beside his big buddy, a St. Bernese dog named Appa. While best known for his Tales from the Behindbeyond urban fantasy novels, Michael writes across all the best genres. His most recent work includes Hollowfall, a cyberpunk, sci-fi adventure, and Sailing on the Tides of Burning Sand, a collection of fantastic short stories. Michael graduated from Weber State University with a degree in English Literature and loves to blend the classic with the contemporary in his writing. His early work included several plays that were professionally produced along with a number of radio programs that aired in 80 markets around the world. Besides writing, Michael also loves to travel, dabble in languages, and cook tasty gluten-free dinners.

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Michael Darling on his Whitney Awards Finalist novel,


What was the inspiration for your Whitney Awards finalist novel?

Hollowfall is the first novel I’ve written that was inspired by an existing intellectual property. My publisher had acquired a contract for the novelization of a board game titled Master of Wills, and the project was very appealing to me. I love board games almost as much as writing, so I asked to be considered. Happily, my book publisher and the game publisher both felt I had a suitable skillset to take the contract and the rest is futuristic history.

What was the tipping point that turned this novel from “just an idea” to a project you HAD to complete?

This question would normally have me agonizing over how I might explain the intrinsic intricacies of my creative process. (Similarly agonizing!) But the tipping point honestly came down to the contract. There was money and a deadline at stake, so I really had to complete the project for practical reasons. I wish I could offer a bottom-line motivation that has qualities more noble or uplifting than these, but the life of a writer sometimes comes down to simply doing the work. I’m just glad that my creativity isn’t stymied by those mercenary sorts of pressures. When all was done, I was very pleased with Hollowfall’s final results and the book felt like something I had been driven to write on my own.

 How did this book evolve into the final story? Did it end up the way you thought it would, or did the plot or characters change along the way?

The world of the novel centers on this post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk city where different neighborhoods are controlled by conflicting factions. Each faction is populated by a veritable menu of characters to choose from, so I had a wonderful wealth of people and places at my disposal. It was definitely exciting to play in someone else’s sandbox and the first task was to outline a story to fit inside it. As the writing developed from there, the story did evolve and a writer must allow that evolution to happen. In fact, if the story is not evolving as you write, then you aren’t getting to know your characters. You aren’t listening to them and learning from them, and that lack of attention will inevitably leave the story feeling stagnant and forced. Ultimately, there were also a few things that needed revision because the narrative broke some rules of the board game it was based on, but for the most part the game publisher loved what I did with the story and even incorporated some of the elements I created into the game’s expansions. Fun bonus!

Who is your favorite secondary character, and why?

Oof. How to choose? There are brilliant hackers, noble rebels with telekinetic powers, and despicable assassins serving the royal houses as they float over the city. Oh, yes. A human-turned-robot with a sense of humor too. And an enormous, flying beetle with psychic abilities. How to choose? Probably, I’d have to favor a guardian character named Max. He’s a larger-than-life figure who wields power-enhanced katanas but, at heart, he’s a quiet man with a nostalgic penchant for cooking German food. It would have been all too easy to make him Sadia’s love interest. You know, the standard “meet cute” in act one, tentative tenderness in act two, muscular lover in act three. Instead, he was so respectful of Sadia’s fragile psyche in the beginning and so intent on protecting her, even when that becomes impossible, and later guiding her through a do-or-die transformation that their relationship becomes so much deeper. I’d like to think I could be a strong yet caring warrior in that vein.

If your book was made into a movie, which scene would you want to be a background extra in?

Love this question! Despite the grand, futuristic trappings, Hollowfall is centered around a very heartfelt, personal story about one young woman’s journey toward self-mastery. Sadia starts out a little bit clueless but she has to grow into a different person before the technologies embedded inside her destroy her. It would be challenging yet gratifying to participate in one of those intimate scenes. On the other hand, there is a lot of action in the book as well. There’s a hidden facility in the desert where important facts come to light. And the cataclysmic final battle in the city is epic. That would be a great scene to be in but, if I could choose, I’d love to show up in the arena scene. There’s a massive events complex in the city featuring a crazy mix of American Ninja Warrior and podraces from Star Wars. It would be cool to be one of the minor characters in that scene and get to play a part in that intense, pivotal moment.