Meet The Winners – Michael T. Banker
Continuing in this year’s Writers of the Future series, meet third quarter winner, New York’s Michael T. Banker
Michael: I have a lot of imaginary friends whom I occasionally write stories about and this is generally considered to be a respectable use of my time. No one has sat me down yet to express concern over my mental health. I’m grateful to live in an age where that’s possible.
Stuart: Ha Ha! Well put! So how’d you get into writing?
Michael: When I was a kid, my friend told me that he wanted to write a book, to which my response was, “As of five seconds ago I’ve always wanted to write a book, too.” I started to plot out a novel in high school, which was fun and good practice, but I didn’t actually write much. I took a creative writing class here and there. It wasn’t until after college that I figured out that if one wants to be a writer, one needs to actually write!
Stuart: That sounds a lot like my story of how I got into programming. I started out helping a friend on his science fair project. But what made you finally go all-in?
Michael: Why do I do it? It’s mentally and emotionally challenging–and fulfilling. It’s a way of organizing my thoughts about the world and human nature. It’s an opportunity to practice stepping out of my brain and into someone else’s.
Stuart: I can see that. Tell me where you do your writing.
Michael: My favorite place to write is on the subway, in cafes, standing in line. But that’s because if I’m writing in these places, I’m probably really into the story and can’t get enough down.
Stuart: Yeah, I carry my little netbook with me everywhere—you never mind having to wait when you can spend the time writing.
Michael: Usually, though, I just need the quiet of my apartment. I will actually wear ear plugs because I find the sound of my keyboard distracting. I use a Kangaroo, which is a hybrid sitting/standing desk, so I’ll often write standing up.
Stuart: Awesome! A fellow stander! I highly recommend it. And what do you do when you aren’t writing?
Michael: I’m either weirdly creative for an actuary, or weirdly analytical for an artistic type, although I suspect that combination is pretty common for writers. My day job is pricing insurance, running models, building Excel spreadsheets. On weekends I throw pottery, I’m teaching myself how to play piano, I really, really want to get into drawing but haven’t carved out the time to do it properly. I splurged on a Cintiq which is awesome, so…maybe gradually.
Stuart: Yeah, I think you may be right about that. I have writer friends who are into everything from robotics to soap. And I do my own plumbing. I have a leaking irrigation line to repair this weekend. 🙂
How long have you been entering WotF/ is this your first contest win?
Michael: Five years or so. I credit WotF with teaching me how to churn out a story regularly. I’m thrilled to have won on the cusp of pro-ing out, but WotF would have been influential on my career whether or not I ever made it to their fancy gala.
Stuart: That’s a very healthy attitude. I always say I entered for the training and hoped to earn some pro-level feedback. Winning was just a super, super nice bonus.
Micheal: I won one other contest, Albedo One’s “Aeon Award,” and got a very nice check for my efforts. There was no trophy or award ceremony or anything, though, so really it just felt like another sale. WotF is unique like that.
Stuart: Well hey, that’s pretty sweet! That’s a definite for the old CV.
Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Michael: A plotter, so much a plotter. I need to know where I’m aiming, even if I change course mid-stream. There are a tremendous number of interesting details to decide in the moment, as I’m writing (how would my characters really speak and behave, how do I convey this image, transport the reader into my setting, frame this scene to accomplish everything that it needs to, etc., etc.). Plot exists on an entirely separate level, and my brain doesn’t bend both ways at once.
Stuart: I like how you put that. I know a lot of writers chafe at the idea as an assault on the art. I don’t see that. Writing is a craft, and all craft is a blending of engineering and art. Plotting is more the engineering side.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Michael: The ability to observe (through a crystal ball, my mind’s eye, whatever) any planet with life on it. Because they’re obviously there. It’s not on the Marvel list of approved superpowers, but I’ll have that, please.
Stuart: Good one! Yeah, that would be very cool, even if it was fairly simple life.
When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?
Michael: I don’t know, but my earliest memory is playing with a duck — literally just a duck-shaped thing cut out of a block of foam. My mom said I had to go somewhere so I asked if I could bring it with me. So I’m playing with my duck in front of the car window, which cracks open in the back rather than rolling down from the top, and then suddenly it’s out of my hands and I just remember staring out the rear windshield, watching my foam duck bounce away on the pavement behind us and disappear.
Stuart: Oh no! My condolences for your loss—and to whomever may have been hit in the head with the thing! You know, I have one of those also. When I was little, we used to go treasure hunting (fossil and relic hunting) in the South Dakota badlands. I have this memory of sitting on a mountain, playing with my match box cars, and one rolling down the hill. When I was a teenager, I mentioned this memory to my mother, saying how odd that I specifically remember NOT retrieving the car, and why that might be. She said, “It’s probably because you were tied to the tree.”
Yeah. Well, how else do you keep a rambunctious three year old from falling over the nearest cliff, right?
Stuart: If you adopted a unique wardrobe tag (ala Dr. Who’s scarf/bowtie etc.), what might it be?
Michael: I call my look, Things I Found Strewn Across My Floor to Cover My Nakedness. I’m pretty happy with it.
Stuart: Very practical. Um…wear a tux, though, you know, for the gala.
Tell us about your winning story
Michael: I originally submitted this story in 2011 to K.D. Wentworth, who gave it an honorable mention. I’m sure I’ve edited it since then, and of course I sent it to a number of markets in between. I submitted it again because the story I wanted to submit for Q3 wasn’t quite ready and I didn’t want to rush it. It feels a little weird, like me from four years ago won the contest, but it goes to show that you shouldn’t self reject. Sometimes the right story and the right editor just need to match up.
Stuart: Very true. A lot of people don’t get that.
Micheal: This story isn’t very representative of most of what I write. It has a little more of a light-hearted/YA feel. But I did have fun writing it. Occasionally I write a story that reminds me that I need to have fun. There are a lot of ways I’d described writing, but fun isn’t usually one of them.
Stuart: Well I can’t wait to read it, and your other work. Thanks for stopping by and again, congratulations!
Check out Micheal’s work at Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, among others.