Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Author Interview: Michael Janairo

Martinus Publishing’s latest anthology, VFW: Veterans of the Future Wars, is now available.  To kick off this new book release, I’ve been conducting interviews with some of the authors who have stories featured in this collection. Today, I'm interviewing Michael Janairo, the talented author who contributed “The Advanced Ward.”  Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed, Michael.

MTI:  Starting off, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

MICHAEL JANAIRO: Hi, Martin. Thanks for the opportunity to share my story and for this interview. I'm an Army brat. My father, his brother and their father—my grandfather—all graduated from West Point and served in various conflicts (World War II, Korea, Vietnam); on my mother's side, one uncle was killed in occupied France during World War II. I've always been interested in my family's stories—the sacrifices that made my life possible. I earned an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's of fine arts in creative writing. I've worked as an arts journalist for years, and will soon switch gears with a new communications job at a museum. I live in upstate New York with my wife, stepson, and dog. In addition to reading and writing, I enjoy movies, TV, plays, musicals, visual arts and music.

MTI:  Now, getting down to business; what first compelled you to weave fiction, and what's your favorite type of story to write?

MJ:  Reading made me a writer. When I was younger, I was a voracious reader. In high school, a friend once said that for me reading a book was like plugging me in. Reading made me feel connected to the wider world—even if that world was defined by the impossible worlds of fantasy and science fiction. I don't know if I have a favorite type of story to write—I always have a lot of story ideas that I want to explore, but because of the day job and other responsibilities, I don't always have as much time to write. (I have a bunch of unfinished stories in various stages.) I guess you could say that my favorite type of story is one that I've finally finished.

MTI:  Tell me, if you had to pick just one author who has influenced or inspired you, who would it be?

MJ:  Tough question! My take, in general, is that my writing is influenced by everything I've read, with most of the influences coming unconsciously. If I had to pick one, though, I'd say J.R.R. Tolkien because of the completeness of his creation: Middle-earth. I don't emulate him as much as feel inspired by his achievement.

MTI:  “The Advanced Ward” appears in VFW, an anthology of military science fiction that honors soldiers and veterans.  Was there any particular inspiration for this story?

MJ:  Yes. My inspirations are twofold: literary and personal. One of my favorite novels is Joe Haldeman's sci-fi classic "The Forever War." I especially liked how he handled time and interstellar travel—the decades that can elapse in "real" time, though it may be only a year or two in subjective time. I also like the general trope of people being put in hibernation for long space travel, and I wondered: What would happen to a soldier if, even though his body was in hibernation, his mind wasn't?

The personal inspiration is something that I don't think I was aware of as I was writing, but now seems obvious to me after having finished revising and editing the story. It has to do with my grandfather and my relationship to him. As I've said, he is a West Point graduate. He retired as a colonel and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Thing is, he hardly ever spoke about his war experiences when I was growing up; however, he was interviewed by a West Point historian, who videotaped their five-hour conversation.

My grandfather is from the Philippines and his generation was the first in his family to attend college. He got into West Point by taking an entrance exam. This was in the 1920s, when the Philippines was a U.S. colony, and each year the top-scorer of the exam got to attend West Point. My grandfather came in third, but the top two finishers failed the physical. When he graduated four years later, he was sent back to the Philippines as a member of the Philippine Scouts, in which he served until he was made a member of the regular U.S. Army just before the Japanese attacked. He was on the island of Corregidor when the U.S. surrendered, and he was forced to march the Bataan Death March. He nearly died in Camp O'Donnell. An American doctor convinced the Japanese that he needed to go to a hospital, so the Japanese commandeered a cart driven by a Filipino, put my grandfather on the cart and told him to go. Once away from the camp, the Filipino cart driver asked my grandfather where he wanted to go, and my grandfather said he wanted to go home. So he went to his home in Cavite, just south of Manila, and he hid out there for the rest of the war. Thing is, by that time my grandfather was a lieutenant colonel and an engineer who knew the landscape in and around the U.S. military bases, so he was able to get that information to Filipino and American guerrilla and, in a small way, helped to defeat the Japanese eventually.

So when I was writing the conversation between the character of the boy, Ximo, and the old veteran, I think one of the things on my mind—in addition to the integrity of these characters—was that I was letting this fiction be a way for me to explore the complex feelings I have about my relationship with my grandfather—the distance I felt and the things I didn't know when I was boy, what I know now and the closeness I feel, even though he died in 1997. I appreciate him. I respect him. I love him. So I think something of that structure of feeling is embedded in the story, though in many ways it has absolutely nothing to do with the lives of the characters in the story. 

MTI:  If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

MJ:  My uncle Raymond, who was killed during World War II. My mother, who was born on a farm in the Midwest, was the ninth out of 10 kids. She met my father, by the way, while she was teaching kindergarten at a U.S. military base in Germany and my father—a captain at the time—was stationed there. Anyway, I totally understand my mother's desire to see the world—no doubt inspired by the loss of her older brother who, by all accounts, was just an all-around great guy. Because of that—his influence on my mom—makes me wish I could meet him.

MTI:  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

MJ:  I've recently completed a military sci-fi novel, so I've been working on my submission packet for another publisher—condensing a 110,000-word manuscript into a one-paragraph description is tough! Meanwhile, I've been outlining what I think will be the follow-up novel, and in my "free time" (Ha!), I've been working on a short story that I think can hold up on its own, even though I also think of it as a character study/intro world building for another possible novel that is, in a circuitous way, inspired by Heinlein's "Starship Troopers."  

MTI:  Other than your contribution to VFW, do you have any other stories coming out in the near future?

MJ:  I have a short story, inspired by my years of teaching English in Japan, called "The Duck" slated for publication in the online journal Bartleby Snopes. In May, a short story of mine called "Angela and the Scar" will be published in the anthology "Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History." My "Long Hidden" story (which also has a child as a main character) takes place in 1900 in the Philippines during the war between the Filipinos and Americans, following the Spanish-American War, and may be of special interest to readers of Veterans of the Future Wars.

MTI:  On a lighter note, have you watched any good tv lately?

MJ:  Yes! Seems like we're in a new golden age of television, inspired by the success of the shorter-season, better-written cable shows like "The Sopranos" and "The Wire." There are too many shows to keep up with, but ones that I enjoy include "Game of Thrones," "Orphan Black," "Endeavor," "The Mindy Project," "Daily Show," "Colbert Report," "At Midnight," and my wife has gotten me hooked on "Project Runway" and its related shows because those shows use the world of fashion (which is very visual, of course) to explore something that all writers face: the creative process, or going from a blank page through an idea to a finished piece, all the while asking what works or what doesn't work.

MTI:  What sort of music do you prefer?

MJ:  It depends on my mood, but I always enjoy the jangly guitar music I grew up with—from classic rock to '80s REM with lots of alt-country thrown in the mix. That said, the last CD I got and listened to closely was classical-music composer John Corigliano's "Conjurer," featuring the amazing percussionist Evelyn Glennie who performed with the Albany Symphony Orchestra. That disc just won a Grammy.

MTI:  And off the top of your head, name three great movies you could just watch over and over again.

MJ:  I haven't re-watched a movie in a while—except Jack Reacher, which I rented having forgotten that I had already seen it! But three movies that I have watched multiple times include two Akira Kurasawa films "Seven Samurai" (1954)—which has a great commentary track on the Criterion Collection DVD—and "Ikiru" (1952), which is just a heartbreaking human drama, and a film out of Taiwan from director Edward Yang with the original title of "Yi Yi," but called "A One and a Two" in English that is a drama about a contemporary family in Taipei in 2000, and how events in their daily lives lead to bigger questions about what makes our lives meaningful. All three of these films are great dramas, and they are also all long (from about 2.5 hours to more than 3 hours), so they offer a view lots to look at and experience.

MTI:  You have the attention of potential readers.  Are there any great words of wisdom you’d like to share with them?

MJ:  I think people reading this interview will already know that the best thing to do is to keep reading—read widely and read deeply—to keep your world big.

MTI:  Excellent advice.  Thank you for that insightful interview, Michael.  Those who’d like to read some of his work can pick up VFW: Veterans of the Future Wars, in Print, or for the Kindle or Nook.

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