The Original Genrenaut: An Interview With Mike Underwood

Mike has circumnavigated the world, knows why Tybalt cancels out Capo Ferro, and rolls a mean d20.

He is the author the several series: the comedic fantasy Ree Reyes series (GEEKOMANCY, CELEBROMANCY, ATTACK THE GEEK, HEXOMANCY), fantasy superhero novel SHIELD AND CROCUS, supernatural thriller THE YOUNGER GODS, and GENRENAUTS, a science fiction series in novellas. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his wife and their ever-growing library. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he plays video games, geeks out on TV, and makes pizzas from scratch. He is a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show as well as Speculate! The Podcast for Readers, Writers, and Fans.

Full disclosure, dear readers: I’ve interviewed Mike once before and it was a blast, so I knew this was going to be fun. That he was generous enough to allow me to do so again speaks to his being an utterly rad dude and one who has a lot of really interesting stuff to say.

Give us the basement to penthouse elevator pitch for the Genrenauts concept.

A. The Genrenauts are a group of storytellers that travel between dimensions, each the source and home of a narrative genre (Western, Romance, etc.), to find and fix broken stories. Because if they fail, the damage from those broken stories ripples over and causes disaster on earth.

The series starts as struggling stand-up comedian Leah Tang is recruited to be a probationary member of the Genrenauts. The team heads to the Western story world to fix a story where the posse of heroic gunslingers was killed by the black hats, leaving the town defenseless. And it just gets wackier from there.

Property of Tor Books
Property of Tor.com

Q: Do you have a favorite genre? A least favorite? Any you’re dreading trying to write in? Any you’re deliberately avoiding? Why to all? Are you writing in a particular order? Any particular reason or just as the shower muse moves you?

A: The only genres I’m dreading are the ones where I don’t know them well enough to be confident that I can say something interesting and useful about that genre and its place in society. I have notes for genres and sub-genres I want to hit for the series (ranging from Historical Romance and Cyberpunk to Wuxia and Horror), each which will require their own research.

The genres I’ve used so far were chosen so I could cover the bases of the major US commercial fiction genres in season one (Romance, Crime, Fantasy/Science Fiction), with Western to kick things off, using a less-prominent genre. I had my list, and then started stitching them together thinking about where different types of stories would break, and how I could thread the season plot through them in order, and use that plot as the foundation for the series plot. When all is said and done, each of these episodes has to do a lot of work, as six novellas is actually not that many words (the total for Season One is looking like it’ll be 155K to 170K), especially when compared to big epic fantasy trilogies.

Q: What does the term “genre” mean to you? Do you think the definition is changing? Do you think it’s any more or less important than it was 10 years ago? Is Genrenauts timely because of the changing definition/importance (if it is changing or becoming more or less important)? How? 

A: Genre means so many things for so many different people and purposes. Genre can be an official marketing category, a choice that informs what readers a publisher is trying to sell the book to. Genre can be a set of lenses for focusing on the ways that different works are in dialogue with one another (a la The Great Conversation in SF/F). It can be a setting (Murder mystery on a space station = Science Fiction), and it can be a plot type (Romance, Police Procedural). 

Changes in how people find and buy books have made genre categorization both more and less important. Amazon’s share of book sales in the US is very large, and a lot of how they sell books is based on fitting books into genre categories so they can be sold to people who have bought similar books. But on the other hand, the ongoing success of Young Adult has created space for cross-genre and hybrid books to succeed, and the convention of using #Tags to talk about book, and bookish communities developing on-line, means that readers who are happy to read across genres have more and more resources for curating an amazing genre-omnivorous diet of books to read. Which is a trend I hope to slide Genrenauts into, to everyone’s benefit. 

Property of Tor Books
Property of Tor.com

Q: Have you figured out how to include a Hamilton universe yet?

A: I’ve been picking away at ideas of how to do a musical episode, and so far, the most common response from my brain has been “Dude, making musical theater work in prose is ridiculous-hard, what are you thinking?” It’s far more likely that a Musical Theater episode would be viable if I ever manage to sell TV or film rights to the series, or maybe if I make a Genrenauts comic one day, where visuals are easier to convey all at once, even if I wouldn’t get audio to go with it.

But I’d say that the chances of at least one or two Hamilton references in the series are pretty good.

Q: When does the next installment come out? How many episodes do you have planned? Is this a world you want to keep for yourself or would you like to have friends in the sandbox at some point?

A: I’m working on final revisions for Episode 3 right now, and it’s currently looking like it’ll be released in May. Before that, there is a Genrenauts short story called “There Will Always Be a Max,” coming April 6th on Tor.com. 

Season one is going to be six episodes, and I’m looking at five seasons in total, so right now, Genrenauts is looking like it’ll be 30 novellas in total (though for season two and beyond, I may change the release model so it’s more ‘release a whole season at once, Netflix-style). I’m having so much fun with the series that I’m already looking at ways to expand into other media, whether that’s with comics, games, or something else. And I already have a TV/Film agent working on the series, though the chances of any individual book or series getting all the way to TV is very low, so I’m not holding my breath, though I think the series would make great Television. 

I’d love to bring other creators into the universe some time, given the right opportunity. The premise is flexible enough (in my opinion) that there are a thousand different ways of telling a Genrenauts story, and I can’t do them all myself. It’s definitely something I’m thinking about as the series develops. 

Property of Tor.com
Property of Tor.com

Q: What color is your saber?

A: Going by KotoR/Legends rules where saber color is determined by Jedi Subclass, I’d be a Consular with a Green saber. I like playing Rogue-type characters in RPGs, but in my own life, I’m totally the Social character, the guy who wants to find a way to solve problems using people skills rather than just swording his way through everything (which is kind of odd, considering how much time I’ve spent studying martial arts and swordplay in specific.)

Going strictly by color, it’d have to be blue, since that’s the color of saber I have (see my Twitter profile picture), and the one that matches my complexion.

Blogniatrix and disembodied voice at The Last Chance Salon. RN at the Department of Therapeutic Misadventures. Author of HERO HANDLERS. Drinker of much coffee. Acquire-er of many comics. Lust-afterer of all the books. Step-uponer of multitudenous Legos.