Mike Van Horn started writing science fiction thirty years ago, but got sidetracked by life and writing a dozen business books. A couple of years ago he said “If I’m ever going to tell these stories in this lifetime it has to be now.” He still advises small business owners, but sci-fi is a lot more fun. The first book of his trilogy, Aliens Crashed in My Back Yard, has just come out with books two and three soon to follow. Mike lives north of San Francisco with his wife BJ, who is also a consultant and writer.
What is your book about?
It’s about a friendly first contact with an alien who crash lands on Earth. But also about a singer getting reconnected with her passion in life after getting disillusioned with her singing. It has a strong woman protagonist and a fascinating alien. Plus nasty government antagonists.
It’s “sci-fi with a sound track.” Since my MC is a singer, I had to write snippets of lyrics that she performs. I thought, if I have lyrics I need music, so I worked with a composer and vocalist, and now have a bunch of songs produced.
How did you come up with the titles?
Aliens Crashed in My Back Yard started out as the subtitle, but I thought it had more juice. With Books 2 and 3 I used titles for two of the songs I wrote — My Spaceship Calls Out to Me and Space Girl Yearning.
How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
I had a fantasy about running a beachfront nightclub in Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco. When I visualized it, I saw a blond woman on stage playing the guitar and singing. No idea where she came from, but she became my heroine. Took me awhile to discover what her name was. She lives where I always wanted our dream house to be. Then an alien crashed on her back hillside.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Some beta readers initially said my MC sounded too masculine. But most of my crit group members are women, so they help me manifest my feminine side while writing. And she’s an out there, sassy, take no shit from anybody type of gal. One of her sidekicks is a woman astronaut — also no shrinking violet.
Is there a theme you’d love to work with?
Yes. Aliens invade Earth, but it’s not a hostile invasion. They come as tourists, scientists, diplomats, traders, etc. I already have a title and cover design. Alien Invasion, There Goes the Neighborhood. I want to explore the ways these aliens from many worlds interact with humans, and the impacts on us. I have scads of notes, but no storyline yet. It may turn out to be a bunch of short stories.
Have you ever written a character based on the real you in some part?
All my main characters capture a slice of me. My MC is an introvert who “hides on the stage in front of crowds of people.” She’s a brash risk taker, but afraid to sing the songs most meaningful to her. There’s an irascible country singer who gets to tell all my dumb jokes. There’s a captain of industry and a suave professor. A nerdy high school teacher and an anti-government survivalist. An astronaut who’s a cool-headed problem solver. My alien ran away from the responsibilities of adulthood on her home world, breaking their biggest taboos. Yes, I am all these characters!
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
Fiction authors? Ursula LeGuin, David Brin, Tolkien.
I love LeGuin’s poetic language, character development, and the sophistication of her plots. For both her sci-fi and fantasy. She doesn’t write shoot ‘em up stories, and neither do I. Brin is a master of portraying how very different alien races behave and work together. That’s a big part of my stories. In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, I love his poetry written from the perspective of different kinds of beings. I do a lot of that also, including song lyrics.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
First published book? Early 1980s. I was 42. Understanding Expert Systems. I was working for a company that got contracts to write computer books. My job was to find the authors. I could not find a suitable author for that one book. Time was running out, so I had to write it myself. I knew nothing about artificial intelligence or expert systems, so I had to learn it to write about it. I even drew cartoons for it. Published by Bantam.
How do you do research for your books?
I want to get my astronomy right, and make my aliens believable and satisfying. I use Google and Wikipedia every day. I read numerous science mags and online columns.
I ask and answer questions on Quora and Medium about alien life and cultures, exoplanets, and astronomical phenomena. I learn a lot by answering questions — it helps me clarify my thinking.
I also travel to locations so I can describe them accurately. We’ve driven up Mauna Loa in Hawaii to scout out the landing location for my spaceship. Does that make it a business trip?
What question do you wish someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
“Could we use some of your music as a sound track for our movie?”
What was your dream job when you were younger?
I’ve had some doozies! Real estate investor. (Buy high, sell low.) Hippie potter living in the woods in Mendocino, CA. Visionary pundit on social change. Futurist! I got hired as a program administrator at UCLA when my resume cast me as a “Futurist.” This was the best real job I ever had. But the craziest? Sci-fi writer. No! Even crazier. Lyricist. When I was young, no way could I have dreamed these up.
What was the best financial investment you made as an author?
Apple stock, back when it was way cheap. Wrote my first book on a Mac Classic in early 80s, decided I liked the machine, and bought some stock. It has gone up and up. It has now guaranteed our retirement.
What books, articles, or authors influenced you the most or made you think differently?
My gurus are Abraham Maslow, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell. They have greatly influenced my worldview. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Jung’s individuation, and Campbell’s hero’s journey. I’d like to write a book combining these three ideas into a model for society.
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