Mitchell Graham Interview
Jason G. Ward for sffworld.com
Mitchell Graham is the author of The Fifth Ring and The Emerald Cavern. His path into publishing is a story struggling artists are sure to hate. Before Mitchell Graham began to write novels, he was already an accomplished fencer and successful trial lawyer, who just happened to have a degree in neuropsychology. Without any professional writing credits he decided to write his own novel.
After writing his first novel, The Fifth Ring, Mitchell Graham suffered for his art by, almost immediately, winning a prestigious award quickly followed by a contract with a leading publisher of science fiction and fantasy. Mitchell Graham’s story would not be made into a movie because an audience would not find it believable – and possibly a little boring. (Who wants to see a movie about publishing a novel?) Yet that is exactly the path he took to begin his third professional career.
The Fifth Ring begins the story of Mathew Lewin. The book starts when a king discovers four rings that are the conduit for an ancient technology to command power that can alter matter. Mathew comes into possession of a fifth ring. King Duren uses his rings and his allies the Orlocks, a subterranean dwelling race with “strange eating habits” (cannibalism), to begin conquering the world. He then sends other Orlocks after Mathew to capture the ring and secure his power.
Mitch claims he did not have a desire to write novels until later in life – despite his brush with greatness as a child. At the age of about 9, he wrote a letter to C.S. Lewis saying how much he enjoyed Lewis’ novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. To his surprise, Lewis wrote back thanking him for his letter and “commending a little closer study of the grammatical niceties of the English language.”
Mitch maintained his correspondence with C.S. Lewis for the next 3 ½ years. At that time Lewis’ letters stopped. Mitch was disappointed but hoped the letters would resume. Eventually, he received a letter from an associate of Lewis saying that Lewis had died. The associate wrote, “I know this is a poor substitute, but I’m sending you a copy of my book “The Hobbit”. A love of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth followed.
It would seem natural from his contact with Science Fiction and Fantasy greatness to claim this was the beginning of his road to publishing literature. Not for Mitch. His goals in youth did not include writing. He says that before his first novel, “I never wrote anything except checks and prescriptions.
In fact, his first motivation for writing came only a few years ago after reading a fantasy novel and feeling that he could write a better one. He wrote The Fifth Ring as “a science fiction book with fantasy elements thrown in.” Mitch said “I started with the idea that advanced technology in a medieval society would be viewed as magic”. He adds the caveat, “It turns out Arthur Clarke had the idea first”. He began his story set in a post apocalyptic world where the cultures are now no further advance than medieval society. Book sales and reviews indicate the book was a successful blend of the two genres.
Mitchell Graham expands the idea of science fiction with a fantasy feel further by emphasizing throughout The Fifth Ring and its sequel The Emerald Cavern that the seemingly unexplainable feats are accomplished through rediscovered technology from an ancient culture – not arcane mysteries. He still makes the reader feel this is a fantasy setting through his convincing description of the medieval cultures of the world. Fans who are curious about the technology will learn more about its origins and the way it functions in the final book of the trilogy, Legacy of the Ancients due in January 2005.
Readers have varying theories about whether the trilogy is set on a future Earth or a different planet that resembles earth. Mitchell Graham seems content to let readers make up their own minds admitting that the map of the world looks European-like and the apocalyptic war leading to the present culture did change the face of the world. He does say that the world “is certainly a reflection of Earth”.
Mitch is more specific on his use of the subterranean race, Orlocks. He acknowledges the surface similarities to H.G. Wells Morlocks, but denies they are transplants from The Time Machine. In the upcoming Legacy of the Ancients, readers will find out who and what the Orlocks are and where they came from. Mitch states, “Their name is not an accident. It is very deliberate and not just a tribute to H.G. Wells.” They are an intelligent race and not inept combatants that will “line up to be killed on one spear.”
As a writer, Mitchell Graham wants to be an entertainer and not a philosopher. He points out that J.R.R. Tolkien was questioned about allegories in his work. Tolkien’s response was that he just wanted to write an entertaining story about good versus evil. Mitch’s intent was the same. He thought the best was to achieve the result was by inventing dynamic characters. “My goal was to write a story about a young boy coming of age. The character growing is seminal to me.” The genre isn’t as important as the characters. “For me, the ray gun isn’t as interesting as the person holding it.”
The books Mitch Graham writes vary in their focus. The Fifth Ring is an adventure novel. The Emerald Cavern concentrates on intrigue and more significant character growth. Still early in his writing career, Mitchell Graham has already avoided one pitfall of the science fiction writer: getting trapped into a single genre. His first murder mystery, Murder on The Majestic is expected to be in stores in July of 2004.
As with other writers, Mitch writes what he knows. “My background in fencing is such that sword fighting is easy for me to write about. The original fencing scene with Mathew and Burke Ramsey was probably four times as long [as in the published version].” His editor convinced him to trim it down. As for the murder mystery, “the trial scenes come naturally to me, as with court room dialogue.”
As the discussion turned to the craft of writing, Mitch revealed the he believes formal education is not the preferred method of learning how to write. “You can spend your life reading ‘How to Write Science Fiction’ but you will gain more by actually studying writers that you admire – seeing how they turn a phrase and craft sentences and how structure works. My feeling is that a good writer has to be a good reader.”
Mitch Graham’s plan for the future is to retire completely from his law and medical practice and write full time. He will continue dividing his writing between science fiction and mystery. Fans who like the world of The Fifth Ring may be disappointed to learn that Mitchell Graham has no plans return to the world. “I think that when its over, it should be over. I’m not a fan of trilogies that turn into nine books,” he says to define his own style. “That’s not a negative comment towards my contemporaries.” The good news is that Mitch will resolve the relationship questions of all the main characters. As far as the plot, his aim is to end the series “with a bang, not a whimper.”